PCOctober 14, 2012 by Joe Shaffer
You awaken in unfamiliar surroundings with blood caked on your clothing and the boom of lightning echoing in your head. It's midnight black, and were it not for the flashlight at your feet you might not have known you were in someone else's house. You try to remember what events could have led you here, but your memories are as blanks as you pockets are empty. Down the hallway from where you laid in dreamless sleep is a sizable lump on the floor, marinading in a crimson pool of gore. Against your better judgment, you investigate the object and realize it was once alive and now covered with oozing wounds.
When asked a question regarding what you should do next, said question should not be limited to a simple yes or no. If you wake up alone in alien surroundings and find evidence to a grisly murder, one in which you could be easily implicated, then there should be a wide gamut of possibilities and choices for you. Unfortunately, the game Home tends to think that almost every tough decision in a murder mystery can be boiled down to "yes" or "no."
I was initially torn on what to think about this. The thing with fiction, even interactive fiction, is that complex situations seldom have simple denouements. Boiling key questions and character motives down to black and white choices demeans what could and should be a more complex narrative.
At the same time, Home is all about ridding the player of complexity while spinning a tense and intriguing yarn. To achieve this, the developer reduced the mechanics to walking left or right while occasionally hitting space bar to examine environmental stimuli when prompted. This summons a pop-up box filled with bits of narrative, usually providing clues to the mystery or asking you one of the aforementioned yes/no questions. You also find a few items hither and yon, but seldom are they gathered to accomplish anything besides getting across a river or unlocking a door.
Erstwhile, you're left to traverse the grim setting in an attempt to return home (hence the game's title). Your odyssey across town will take you down strange avenues, escaping the Stygian house into a sewer, eventually winding up in a forest and an abandoned factory before shuffling into the streets of your hometown. Unfortunately you won't be alone in your quest, as you are constantly reminded there's a killer on the loose. Fresh slaughter appears at various intervals, usually after you've heard the whine of a door opening in the distance or a hoarse cough issued from an unknown assailant.
As much as I'd like to continue trying to sell Home as an excellent interactive thriller, I've run out of awesome. Home is an ambitious concept that overstays its welcome before you reach its conclusion, all thanks to its share of flaws.
For starters, you have retro visuals that hearken back to older computer thrillers like Hugo's House of Horrors. Ordinarily I'd fawn over the cute throwback, only to remember that I'm sick to death of retro graphics for the sake of retro graphics. To boot, I can think of no more ill-fitting of a title to use them in than Home. Most developers have a reason to utilize old school visuals, and it's usually their way of showing what games inspired their "neo-retro" piece. Home doesn't abide this principal, unless there are side-scrolling whodunnits that have flown well below my radar.
Uninspired visuals are the least of Home's issues, though. What really grinds my gears about this game is that it isn't scary. It makes earnest attempts by having random sound effects play intermittently in the background, but those are on par with "ooga-booga" scares in modern Hollywood horror films, and come off as cheap and dull.
You're never in any direct danger, as there's never an actual threat. Perhaps if this game had tossed some perils your way, then there may have been a solid reason to be fearful. Unfortunately, there's no way to lose at this game, at least not that I've found. You don't evade or narrowly escape a painful end. You plod, you hit the space bar now and then, you reach conclusions on "whodunnit" at the end, you yawn, and you watch the end credits. For a game that's supposed to be "interactive fiction," it isn't very interactive.
The game's lackadaisical pace grows even more irksome when you realize you cannot save. When you engage in this title, you're in it until the end or until you're tired enough of wandering around and looking at things that you quit playing. This may not sound like much of a flaw, but bear in mind that a single playthrough can last 90-120 minutes. If you think about it, that's a large chunk of time devoted to repeatedly hitting space bar and investigating random stimuli to achieve an end that is, quite frankly, not worth your while.
Thankfully, the investment you put into Home--money or time--doesn't amount to much. Even still, there's the question of whether or not you want to invest any time into a lackluster interactive fiction title when so many superior entries into the genre (read: more immersive and interactive) exist. Before you download Home, be sure to Google other interactive works of fiction. There are a large number of solid ones out there, some of which are free, and most of which are better than this title.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.