Home doesn't have many of the elements of a typical horror game. There are no monsters or axe-wielding maniacs. The pixelated graphics won't haunt your dreams and there are no jump scares. There isn't even any combat, and your character can't die. Instead, the game is more psychological — as you explore a creepy house (and beyond), you'll come across disturbing scenes and moments where you can make choices that subtly influence how the story plays out. No matter which decisions you make, the results are always unsettling, making Home the kind of game that sticks with you even after you turn it off.
Home was released for Windows last year, but today made the jump to iOS devices. The shift feels very natural — since all you really do in the game is walk left and right, touchscreen controls are a good fit, as you simply tap the appropriate side of the screen. In order to interact with objects — which are helpfully highlighted as you walk past them — you do a double tap. At the outset of Home, you wake up in a strange house, and the rest of the experience involves figuring out just what happened. You'll explore rooms, find items, and solve the occasional simple puzzle. It's much more about unraveling the mystery than it is about any sort of challenge.
"I had a notebook that looked like a serial killer's sketchbook."
The way the story unfolds is one of Home's biggest strengths, as the main character is able to slowly piece things together the more you explore. The narrative is messy, which is perhaps not surprising considering it starts in a fit of amnesia, and things get even more muddied as you are able to make choices to influence the outcome. At various points you'll be prompted to make decisions — to pick up an object, say, or flip a switch — and these can change the way events unfold. There are a few different endings and which one you get can depend on whether or not you decide to pick up that blood-caked knife on the ground. "It was something that basically got out of control really quickly," creator Benjamin Rivers says of Home's flexible narrative. The story originally stemmed from an old short story he'd written, and expanded from there, as he added new elements so that players could make choices. "In the end I had a notebook that looked like a serial killer's sketchbook," Rivers explains.
With its dark, pixelated visual style and adventure game mechanics, Home feels like a long-lost PC game. So it might be surprising to some that it works so well on an iPhone or iPad — it's just nice being able to play a horror game while laying in bed at night, with headphones tucked into your ears. That was actually all part of the plan, as Home was originally envisioned for the iPad. However, there was one small problem in bringing it to Apple's tablet initially. "I realized I don't know how to program iPad games," says Rivers, "and there's no way I could do this." So he launched the game on Windows first, before tackling the iOS port, and a Mac version is expected to follow later on.
"I really wanted people to focus."
Part of the reason Home works so well on a touchscreen is that Rivers designed the game based on the belief that it would eventually be coming to the iPad — he didn't want to add anything that "wasn't possible on a touchscreen." There have also been a few recent updates to the Windows version to add features that are present in the iOS game, like the ability to actually save your progress. In an attempt to get players to experience the entirety of the game in one playthrough, Rivers had initially removed any sort of save feature from the game. "The point was, I really wanted people to focus," he says.
Even with the added ability to save, Home is still best enjoyed in one sitting — and thankfully it takes less than two hours to complete, making this relatively easy to accomplish. And while it's most definitely a single player game, Home is also an even better experience if you have friends who are also playing. It's the kind of game that benefits from discussion, and it's especially fun to compare stories, so you can see the different routes the story can take and debate what the different endings actually mean. "It's not a game that you get all the answers from," says Rivers.