Home review: there's no place like hell

Game Info
Platform Win, Mac, PS Vita, iOS, PS4
Publisher Benjamin Rivers
Developer Benjamin Rivers
Release Date Jun 1, 2012

More of an experiment in player-controlled narrative than a traditional game, Home's unnerving story is well worth uncovering for yourself.

Many horror games take place in bizarre, otherworldly locales - an abandoned space station, a rundown hospital, a remote South American village. With Home, indie developer Benjamin Rivers has a much more sinister setting in mind.

As its title suggests, Home burrows itself into the most familiar locations. Your unsettling journey will take you through the local convenience store that your best friend owns, the factory you worked in for years, and, eventually, to the house where you live with your wife. You'll discover secret passageways, explore creepy forests, and uncover clues to dark secrets in your life.

Above all else, you'll craft your own narrative. Home is as much a choose your own adventure novel as a game, but the subtle story it tells is disturbing and unique enough to hold interest despite limited interactivity.


In Home's opening moments, the protagonist wakes up in a room he doesn't recognize, his identity a mystery to the player and even his face obscured and undetailed thanks to the game's pixel art style. The rickety house is eerily empty save for a dead body rotting nearby. The hero - is he a hero? - has no memory of his recent past and knows only that his wife is waiting for him at home.

With that setup, you take control. You can move the character left and right, examine items you come across, and enter doors or climb ladders. And...that's pretty much it.

Home occasionally blocks your path with a simple puzzle. These involve flipping nearby switches or searching the surrounding areas until you've found an item that will clear the obstacle, but they rarely require much thought. Anyone searching for a challenge of wits or reflexes should look elsewhere.

While Home's puzzles won't slow you down, it forces tense pauses at the numerous points where you decide how the main character acts or what he believes. When he stumbles across a gun, you choose whether or not he picks it up despite how uneasy it makes him feel. When he finds a key in the sewers, you decide whether he takes his time exploring every locked door for secrets or rushes out into fresh air at the first opportunity.



Like many recent indie horror games, Homeopens with a splash-screen asking you to play it at night with the lights off and with headphones. While these suggestions are optional, one of Home's distinguishing factors is not: Home is meant to be completed in a single sitting - around an hour-and-half of play time. You cannot save your game, so the only way to hold your progress is to alt-tab out and leave the game running.

This lack of user-friendliness might sound annoying, but it serves the game well. It's worth setting aside a block of time to finishHome in one setting to squeeze the maximum amount of meaning out of its tale. An option to save or jump between scenes for replays would be nice, but Home's malevolent atmosphere is aided by forcing players to live with the choices they've made.


These decisions mold the player's role into something unique. Rather than seeing the main character as a stand-in for yourself, you begin to realize that you're the narrator shaping this poor soul's life story. Each choice sends ripples through the story that build into a terrifying wave of your own creation by game's end.

The changes are subtle - most of the time it's only Home's text and the undertones of it that are affected - but they can morph Home into a completely different experience. In two playthroughs in which I chose completely different narrative options, I came to equally different conclusions about the main character's past misdeeds. It may even be possible to build a story where the unnamed protagonist doesn't have any sins he's covering up, although like in real life, I think it would be a difficult task.


Wrap Up:


Home's aesthetic minimalism blends with its quiet, creepy story to great effect, creating the kind of psychological horror that may not haunt your nightmares outright but will stick in your subconscious for months. Home may not feature enough actual game for some players, but Rivers has successfully built a sophisticated, horrifying narrative experiment. Like the best horror tales, it doesn't leave you with all of the answers. But Home invites you to do more than just discuss its unsettling ambiguities; you get to help create them.

About Polygon's Reviews