A choose your own murder mystery.
Can horror exist in a 2D pixel art world? That is a question Benjamin Rivers and his team intend to answer. Home is truly a unique choose your own adventure that puts the story in the hands of the player. At first glance, it's easy to write this off as another indie pixel art game, but the writing is what really stands out.
You are an unnamed protagonist, stumbling his way through a myriad of environments. Our “hero” explores the spooky woods, traverses the underground sewer facility and other unnerving locales. All while finding gruesome scenes of death and confusion to set the bone chilling tone. The art design is a simple-yet-effective 2D art design reminiscent of the Super Nintendo days. The lighting and background designs give enough detail but can prove blurry when smaller details are necessary, specifically in some puzzles. The sound design is top notch in bringing minimal sound and tone, curating a creepy ambience that sticks with you throughout. It enhances the mystery and cryptic feel of the proceedings.
The gameplay revolves around basic 2D exploration of the environments with interactive points of interest that reveal more about the world around you. These points give clever notes, describing each item or area in vivid detail. The clues and items reveal more of the story but only inasmuch as the context you search for. Meaning while clues may be present, they are not the ONLY clues present and their interpretation is entirely personal and contextual. When receiving a clue regarding an item, it may not behoove you to pick it up with some items negatively impacting the player or choices leading to harmful conclusions.
Home has planned settings and situational items and responses to your exploration. Crossing a river will lead to wet pants and a later conclusion of leaving muddy footprint trails, but if you were to find the 2x4, you can cross the river without harm or leaving a trail. The game presents items and clues but doesn’t inherently explain them or their use until a later date. That’s what makes this fascinating.
The writing throughout the story is detailed and oriented with little to no context leaving infinite conclusions to be drawn throughout. Sections of camera footage lead to a subplot of a pair of mysterious murderers that I missed entirely on my first playthrough, giving me an entirely different interpretation of the story. That’s the point of how this is written. Each item sheds light on the proceedings but even then, it’s up to the player to interpret them however you want. With each run, I was left with a different story entirely and it’s nearly impossible to get every clue and item in a single playthrough. Some facts are the same, but the origins of the murders are always left up to the player.
Finding the right clues point towards one solution, while deciphering hidden video tapes can lead to a second set of conclusions. While game plots are generally always a matter of perspective, Home puts it directly in the hands of the player with actual prompts on how the player feels about each clue. This gives the game a high level of replayability with each clue giving a new perspective on the story’s plot in multiple ways when combined with other clues. After several playthroughs, I proceeded to the developer website and found a section that was strictly for people to speak on what they think was happening in the plot. A community full of their own theories on the murder mystery is a fascinating prospect.
Home has been an indie darling since it’s original release of 2012 but with the Post Mortem edition, you get bonus areas and clues that give new twists to the story plus director commentary throughout. The director's commentary really goes in depth on the design and intentions regarding how clues worked adding another layer to the already multilayered package presented. An indie darling indeed.