Updates Tuesdays and Fridays.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Review: Home

If anybody from Steam is reading this, your ads worked. Home was brought to my attention by a little ad that popped up on one of the rare occasions this weekend when my girlfriend or I closed out Skyrim, and I said "Neat, less than $3, let's give this a try."

I might have been sold just on the pixels.
Home's promotional materials describe it as a "horror" game, though I'm not sure I found it to be that, exactly. It is, among other things, a mystery, and sometimes a scary one, but first and foremost about finding answers. You wake up in a house - not yours - next to a dead body and with only a blurry understanding of what happened. From there, you have to make your way home to find a woman named Rachel, your protagonist's S.O. Along the way, you'll face a number of choices - some seemingly inconsequential, some where there's really only one "choice," and many that seem significant but whose outcome isn't wholly predictable. The game's story is presented in first-person past tense, making it seem as though the outcome is already written - choices come in the form of "Did I climb the ladder?" or "Did I pick up the knife?" It's a cool effect - at once it gives you more agency, as though you're manipulating the past, and less, as though all you're doing is remembering (or misremembering) previous events.

"Did I pretend I didn't see that dead body because it was way creepy?" Yes. Yes, I did.
You have to play Home in a single sitting - there's no save option - but that does it more good than harm. At a lingering pace, it won't take you more than an hour, and having a continuous experience does wonders for the atmosphere. The game is certainly tense; the corpses and unsettling clues you find along the way are claustrophobia-inspiring and frightening. As you unravel more, though, your curiosity will outweigh your fear. What happened? How did this come to be? How are all of these links connected? Or, perhaps, put better: How am I connecting them? One of the things I love so very, very much about this game is so simple, and so small, and that is that choices you make are clearly reflected in the writing. So simple. If you pick up something, your character will note it later. If you notice a particular locked door, your character will muse on it as you're leaving the area. It all flows really well; if it was a story written down, the paths would feel complete, like that was the way it was supposed to go, and you wouldn't notice. It's only in knowing that you could have made a different choice that you get to be impressed at how well the story handled the choice you did make. It's a video game where your decisions don't make the thing feel like a choose-your-own-adventure.
Incidentally, every book on that shelf is a choose-your-own-adventure. 
So, story-lovers reading this, there's your takeaway: Home does multiple-outcome stories better than any other game I've played. Each choice feels consequential and noticed. If you don't have any other reason to play it, let that be it. But there are other excellent reasons too. The game looks great (like old games, but great), sounds fantastic (I jumped, more than once), and whatever story gets told, it is intensely unsettling and strangely heartbreaking. There will come a moment in the game where the story, and your role in it, suddenly comes to light in a way that was, for me, nauseating, unbalancing, and perfectly timed, and that moment for me was an experience I've never had with any other game. And when I play games, that's what I'm looking for.

There are many choices to make, and many ways for the story to turn out. Midway through, I told myself I'd want to go back and do it again, to find another path, which is one of the dangers of games with multiple endings: you feel cheated unless you get the "Real Ending" or the "Good Ending." At the end of Home, I didn't know what kind of ending I was looking for, but I did feel like the ending I got was the ending to the story that was being told - that I was deciding - throughout. When I was done, I didn't feel like going back - not because I didn't want to, but because I was satisfied with the story I experienced. The idea that there are a lot more stories to experience, and that how each player proceeds through the game teases out those stories naturally, is incredibly cool to me.

Website: http://homehorror.com/
Steam: http://store.steampowered.com/app/215670/?snr=1_7_suggest__13
Twitter: @BenjaminRivers for the game's developer, @homehorror for the protagonist (and #homehorror)

No comments:

Post a Comment