Walking into Benjamin Rivers’ Home I had almost no expectations. I just knew that Superbrothers was excited about it, and that it looked similar to Lone Survivor and supposedly had some unique story-telling methods. Looking at screenshots, I was rather dubious at first. There were some dead bodies, but I didn’t see any scary monsters or enigmaticly horrifying pixel-blobs. Just normal looking rooms in various states of upkeep. Not much to see. Yet I kept seeing people talking about how terrifying it was. So I figured that meant that it was all about story and atmosphere, and although it has some things hidden up its sleeves, I was happily correct.
Comparisons to Lone Survivor are unavoidable, considering the style and the horror theme, but Home is far different. Home is extremely stripped down, almost making it more of an interactive story. The mechanics include walking, hitting “Y” or “N”, raising your flashlight above you head, and reading and looking. Basically, it’s what I wanted/expected Lone Survivor to be, for better or worse. So I guess it’s good that Lone Survivor is what it is.
Home focuses entirely on the story, which is told from a weirdly autonomous past-tense point of view. Rather than deciding “I want to do this,” you feel as if you’re reminding the character what he did, or as if he himself is telling you about a nightmare that he’s struggling to remember. Throughout the game, text screens (like the one above) pop up and allow you to make decisions. Thankfully the decisions are not of the simple A/B “choose your own adventure” variety, although they appear so. Having played through only once, I don’t know the extent to which this is true, but in an interview Rivers said that the decisions you make don’t really affect the outcome of anything. What they really do is affect your perception of events, and therefore, your perception of what really happened. Every play-through will be a naturally different experience, and every player will leave the game with a slightly different interpretation of what happened. In short, Rivers managed to use decision making in games as something compelling instead of contrived.
Many of the decisions are simple and rather mundane, such as picking up a photograph or flipping a switch. Some of the choices that I thought would be major ended up having no discernable affects, and many of the choices that I thought would be meaningless ended up giving me unexpected insight. Later on in the game, I intentionally didn’t pick up certain items for fear of what knowledge they would lead me to. Indeed, Home manages to tap into a fear deeper than just that of something lurking at the edges of your small circle of light. I made the climactic decision of the game based on what I desperately wanted (or wanted not) to happen. I made it out of fear, and a desperation for sanity. At the beginning of the game, I was eager to learn more. By the end, I desperately didn’t want to know.
Many of my favorite horror stories (i.e., those by Arthur Machen and Algernon Blackwood) are about characters curiously or ignorantly dipping into unknown terrors, who then, after realizing what they’ve gotten into, desperately try to escape. Rather than just telling me a similar story, Home gave me a glimpse into the experience itself. This is exactly what the artistic ability unique to gaming is: to give us emotional insight into experiences that we couldn’t or wouldn’t have in reality. In the case of Home, it’s an experience that no one would ever want to have in reality. It is a fascinating experience.