Lets get one thing straight. I am a wimp when it comes to gaming. I am allergic to jump scares, and thus actively avoid horror games. Five Nights at Freddys? Dream on. Slender? On your bike. You see, its the fear of not knowing when exactly I am going to get scared that has led me to fear these titles. Give me a game like SAW any day, at least in that I know what is after me and when.
So when I picked up Home for the first time, and the on screen instructions brightly informed me to turn all the lights off and put headphones in, I politely declined, turned off my Vita and went on my way. Unfortunately I was only delaying the inevitable, so I made a compromise. I would use headphones, but my light switch was staying firmly in the on position.
So what did I experience in my 90-minute playthrough? Developed by Benjamin Rivers, Home boasts itself as a “Unique Horror Adventure’. The story starts with you awaking in a House that is not your own, with an injured leg and no memory of how you got there. Your only desire is to get Home. But as you further investigate your surroundings, it is quickly apparent that something is a miss, and you are quickly swept up in a murder mystery.
Praise must be first given to the developer, who manages to create a atmospheric and ominous world with a simplistic pixelated art style. Playing with headphones in is definitely the best way to experience Home, with every creak, bump and unknown sound magnificently timed to make you jump at the smallest of noises. The sound of a rusty door opening, a piercing cat meow or an almost inaudible floorboard creak all added to the tension, and by the end I really was on the edge of my seat.
You are equipped with just a flashlight, which casts a circle of light on your immediate vicinity, the rest of the world is shrouded in darkness. As I walked through an area, I felt an immense sense of dread, as I feared what I might find in the gloom. With such a limited visibility radius, you really do feel claustrophobic and a sense of being trapped. By the end, the tension almost became too much and I dreaded to see what awaited me at my final destination.
Home is indeed a unique experience, in the fact that you the player ultimately decide how the story progresses. As you make your way through each environment, you will interact with a host of different objects. There are no voices in Home, your thoughts are relayed via a text screen, which will appear whenever you interact with an object. You can choose throughout whether to take certain objects, or ignore them. Your choices open up different story elements, and all lead to your own story conclusion.
Of course I am the sort of person who has to pick up everything he finds when exploring a game world, though as I delved deeper into the story, I did start to question some of my previous choices. At certain points I even fully regretted taking certain objects, as they potentially incriminated me. This really does make the experience unqiue, and the game should be commended for having so many story outcomes based on your choices. Certain paths can only be unlocked by finding a particular object and sometimes the search is justified, whereas on other occasion you fell slightly short changed, but it is definitely worth exploring every single area to get the most out of Home.
But what does it all mean? That was what I was left asking myself once my playthrough was complete. What had happened? Why had it happened? In the end, ultimately it is up to you to decide the outcome. It really is a choose your own adventure, and although I did like this idea, it did leave me feeling slightly cold. You do get the sense that perhaps more could have been done to help players reach a better conclusion. I was so invested in what I was discovering, I felt I deserved a better explanation. I was left wanting more, and I straight away started a second play through to see what other choices would mean to my outcome.
As you might expect, Home indeed feels right at Home on the PS Vita. The game runs smoothly, sounds great and just fits nicely onto everybody’s favourite handheld. Movement with the joystick, and interacting with objects using Triangle all worked extremely well, and you can’t help but feel that the PS Vita is the best place to play it.
With Home, the more you give, the more you will get from it. It has a compelling story, which will have you questioning everything right up to the final credits. It is a psychological horror that really gets under your skin. Things don’t make sense, and by the end you will be left scratching your head as to whether you are satisfied or not. Regardless of the less than satisfying conclusion (which you the player choose!) I really was hooked, with the suspense and tension gripping me right to the end. Home expects you to use your imagination at times, and this will make everybody’s play through unique. It is a short experience, but a memorable one which will keep you coming back for more. Maybe I’ll consider turning those lights off during my next playthrough…