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Hi all! I’m headed back up to Rochester Friday morning 4/17 for the Tora-Con anime convention! Its a busy time, so I won’t be able to do Promise for a couple of days, but I’ll be daily again once I get back on Tuesday!
On the brightside, if anybody else is planning to be at Tora-Con, message me and we can meet up!
Home: A Unique Horror Adventure is a game that I played on the PS4, with pixel style graphics and a promise of spooky atmosphere. Now may I say, I’m a girl who loves her mystery horror. If there ever were two genres meant to be slammed together to create perfection, it was those two. Unfortunately, Home delivers more on the mystery, and not so much on the horror.
At the game’s outset you wake up in a room, with muddy shoes, blood and absolutely no memory of what’s going on. Not a good way to wake up in the morning, I can imagine. It’s stormy out, and there’s a corpse just outside the room. Quite obviously you’re not exactly in the best situation. Then the plot starts, which I will simplify as ‘The Hangover, with 30% more murder’. That’s the story in it’s basic nutshell. You have no memory. The player character will make comments as he goes, and looks at things, and you have a branching path system to explore and investigate the events of the town to try to piece together the truth. You must unravel a mystery. Are you a murderer? Is your friend? What’s up with the memory loss? Are you an alcoholic? Why were you in some sado-murderer’s house anyway? Was it some kind of murder orgy? I hope not!
It’s an interesting way to tell a story for sure. I’m not going to say much else about the story itself, because those who are interested will want to figure out what’s going on for themselves… even if ultimately there may be no answer. The story that relies entirely on the idea that you, as a player, interpret then events differently than someone else will. That’s the crux of the game’s storytelling. And I’ll admit, I found this approach fascinating. I talked a bit with my fiance about what we thought the true events could be, and discussed it for an hour before forgetting about it and going to sleep. The problem of course with this method of storytelling is you need to leave it open ended enough to leave that room for interpretation. This means that a lot of the story points are vague, difficult to follow, and most damningly…light on the emotional impact when something big happens. It doesn’t help that the entire playthrough, my fiance kept making ‘Mary, could you really be in this town?’ jokes at me.
Despite its problems the story had an interesting flow to it, and the mystery was pretty engaging for one so loose and ultimately unfruitful. In the end you go on deciding on the events you believed to have happened, confirming them, and letting your character go on his merry (or decidedly unmerry) way, confident that their point of view is correct.
While I did enjoy the story more or less, there were …how do i put it? Oh yes. A crap ton of problems. Namely, it got pretty boring, pretty fast. Part of what’s at fault for this has to do with the gameplay, which I’ll go over later. But the point I want to talk about now is the horror aspect.
For a game that bills itself as a Unique Horror Adventure, I was never horrified. I’ve been scared by pixel horror games before. Yume Nikki unsettled me. The Witch’s House caused a chill near the end, I was genuinely frightened by parts of Ib, etc. Let it not be said it the pixel’s that made the experience tame for me. In fact the pixels are actually beautifully done. The shading and shadows are good, the backgrounds are nicely done. The character even has some subtle movements (like a limp) that I felt were cleverly put in. Eyes stare at you from the distant background of the woods…it all SHOULD be scary.
But nothing scary ever happens. It sets up scares, then doesn’t pull through. A cat meows in the first hallway, and scampers away, making a very cheap jump startle….but not much else. Lights flicker…and that’s it. Creaks and groans in a dark factory building build suspense that something might happen but it never follows through. In the end, I learned to expect that nothing would come of the bumps and sounds and staring eyes from the abyss beyond the fence. What was called a horror amounted to one guy wandering through the dark woods, muttering to himself about how he really hopes he can find his credit card, because it really sucks he dropped it! When did he even do that! Wow what a putz!
Any horror that came from the truly gruesome moments (for a given value of gruesome), was highly diminished by increasing predictability; refusing to really play up the scare, and…frankly, by the lack of any horror before. My response to finding yet another corpse in someone’s bedroom was ‘Is that supposed to be my friend? He literally looks like the last three corpses I’ve seen today’.
I will say flat out, I was disappointed. It promised horror, and ended up being kind of a light thriller with a high dose of mystery. I wasn’t horrified. I didn’t feel even a tinge of fear crawling up my spine. I more felt very mildly intrigued with a side helping of slightly bored. The only real fun came from using the things you find in the environment to figure out whodunit. But past that, there isn’t much else.
Speaking of not much else to do! Lets go over the game mechanics!
Control-wise Home is incredibly simple, and repetitive. Move from side to side. Click ‘X’ to interact with things. Scroll through your inner monologue, walk a bit, hit another button to push a block or open a door. You can also do this nifty thing where you point your flashlight up and stand on your tiptoes…but it always looks like he’s striking a dance pose. I end up mashing the button over and over to make the possible murderer dance to a fistpump worthy beat. Disco Killer style.
The simple controls figured out, we shove off into the world of gameplay! Most of the game involves…walking! Thats pretty much the extent of it. Walk to different places. Investigate stuff, and occasionally use a keycard or other item to open something, or solve an incredibly simple puzzle. It doesn’t even throw any quick time button presses at you. It’s one of those games. And while I feel these simple mechanics can be good for getting a story across interactively, this one kind of falls flat. The areas can take a little bit to walk through at your meandering, unalterable pace, which means it starts to drag halfway through, and what little interest I had at that point began to drain away like water in strainer someone had decided to punch extra holes in.
It was all too easy to lose interest when there was nothing much going on for half an hour of your less than 2 hour runtime. Walking can be well and good, if its a build up to horror, but here it felt like mere tedium broken only by another sameface corpse. I got tired of seeing those pretty quick.
I finished Home in around an hour and a half. And that was taking the time to poke at it. It’s short, and the story has an interesting angle to it, with the whole….perspective thing. But I didn’t find myself that much of a fan. It has good replay value, because of the ability for internal reinterpretation of its narrative, but that’s only if you can stomach the idea of replaying it. With it’s decent visuals but sub-par scares, limited story, and all around sort of boring run-time…Home was the kind of game that just made me want to wander away and play me some Silent Hill.
Every now and again I’m troubled by strange thoughts. Thoughts like ‘if there were invisible people, who watched us, would we ever know they were there?’ or ‘when i’m swimming, are there things under the surface looking up at me?’ And ‘what if the world I know is only the way I perceive it to me? What if everyone else is seeing something different?’. Stupid little shower thoughts that spiral in my head and make my mind race in circles for all of ten minutes before I pay them no mind and brush them off as ridiculous. Ridiculous…yeah. There’s no need to worry about such stupid and inconsequential things as that when the real world has so many problems of it’s own, right?. That’s the thinking I use to push away those thoughts as I drive down the dark and lonely road tonight.
Tonight I’m on my way to work, as usual. The night shift at a 24 hour mart isn’t glamorous but it at least helps to support me and the wife. I just wish it wasn’t snowing. It’s that wet, heavy, dreadful kind of snow. The kind that you know will cling to your car all night, clogging up the wheel wells, leaving on your windshield and make the morning commute a living hell once you back off the main roads and down the small country lanes which never seem to get plowed. Of course that’s where we live. It was my stupid idea. Living within nature, around the trees and the plants and the animals….bah. More like among the ridiculous din; backwater hunters who looked like fishmen, and the ever oppressive darkness. I take a left, turning down the ‘main road’…a long nearly defunct route that once linked two states together, now relegated to an empty stretch of corn fields and farms…almost entirely sans street lights.
My headlights light the way–twin beams that intersect into a circle of light dead ahead, barely carving through the snow in these ridiculous conditions. White streaks like speed lines hammer against my windshield as my wipers go crazy, swishing back and forth with an incessant thumping sound as they strive to keep my view clear. I grit my teeth and press down on the gas pedal. The world outside is dark. The cones of light seem like the only refuge from the midnight black that surround me. And they’re being drowned out by the pounding snow.
I have a thought as I make my solitary trek through this empty void of a street. What if this place only exists in the light? What if outside my windows, and out of my headlights there’s only that blackness? What if nothing exists except for what we can see in the light? If that’s the case , what’s the blackness? Is it hiding something or is it just a void? I shiver, and shake my head. i’m being stupid again, obviously. I need to stop that.
Up ahead, a circle of light forms in the darkness, shining down and lighting the small circular patch of road and dirt. A street lamp. My savior. A reminder that my ridiculous thoughts are unfounded. My car passes it, the light filling my car for a brief moment, only illuminating the small bit of road, the rest still cast in inky dark. And all too soon i=I’m out of it again, my high beams the only source of light. I shake my head, looking out the side window.
I see nothing. No glow of the moon illuminating the trees….Of course not; the clouds above are hiding it. It’s a storm. A blizzard even…..No stalks of corn silhouetted against the pale black of the night sky…..also ridiculous, it’s snowing. It’s dark. You can’t see anything in the dark. If I just stop and shine my headlights that way, I’ll see them just fine.
But what about if that was only because i shined the light on them?……I bite my lip. Shit. I’m getting too worked up. I see another pale circle of light up ahead. another street light. Proof that i’m just thinking crazy. I drive up….The light is interrupted by a figure that stands there in the cold, driving snow. A man in a long coat, with a wide hat. I think about stopping…no. No he must be a local, Nobody would be here in the snow. I’ve got places to be. He’s probably just shoveling, or something…people in the country are weird. I blow past him, my car and I leaving the man behind in the circle of light.