Looking for some spooks? Homebody by Game Grumps will get you jumping. A puzzle horror game, Homebody presents a creepy atmosphere along with a story of anxiety and depression. Full of metaphors and interesting brain teasers, Homebody is definitely a game to check out as a horror fan.
In Homebody you play as Emily, a fiercely nervous girl who is worried what her friends might think of her after she revisits them. It’s the standard “cabin in the woods” gimmick, where a group of friends go to an old house in the woods and scary stuff happens. While making awkward small talk with your friends, the clock hits 9pm and lightning shocks the power off. With everyone reluctant and tired from waiting for you to arrive (you had a panic attack in the middle of driving over, making you late), you decide it’s up to you to turn the power back on. The system to flick the lights on turns out to be convoluted and walking up stairs you find all your friends dead, with a monster chasing after you! Moments of your life flashback to you, revealing the shaky connections you have with your friends and shedding light on your obsessive compulsive nature. You then find yourself back in the house with a gnawing feeling something isn’t right.
After failing at communicating with your friends (your dialog choices aren’t actually what you say, as your anxiety overwhelms you), you try to find the true exit out of the house, leading you down a series of puzzles. Honestly the story in Homebody starts to fall apart mid-game. There are many cutscenes after you die, and there’s your pal Pete who tosses you hints to puzzles now and then, but the pacing plateaus after a while. If you’re not great at solving puzzles, or have a hard time understanding what the hints mean (which I did), then you can find yourself dying a lot. Homebody quickly stops being a horror game and more of an escape room time trial.
Puzzles in Homebody are introduced in a “Metroidvania-esque” way where hints and puzzles are shown before you are able to complete them, allowing for intrigue, but also leaving space for confusion. You will get puzzles and hints mixed up, along with the confusing maze of the house. After a certain number of deaths, the cutscene stories run out. The monster that comes after you and your friends every night starts poking around the corner sooner and sooner, until it’s a mad dash to complete the last puzzle before killing. The reason why Homebody falls apart is the timing of the monster. While the idea of the monster chasing after you builds anxiety, there’s no reason to try to survive besides finishing up a puzzle you lost time with. In most cases, I purposefully sought out the monster so I could work on another puzzle without getting interrupted. That being said, solving a puzzle makes you feel so smart. When not playing Homebody, I felt the puzzles gnawing at the back of my head eagerly beckoning me to solve them.
The one big miss the developers had was connecting the story to the gameplay. There are cutscenes explaining Emily’s problems and you can chat with her friends every night, but being able to connect the seemingly random puzzles to what’s going on in Emily’s life would have been the icing on the cake. The story is close to driving the entire game, with mountains of dialog (to also include four whole books) that is both silly, serious, and emotional. It’s a shame these emotions didn’t connect to the gameplay. The scary elements are never explained. Why is there a monster? The game isn’t even sure. Why is the house made of meat? A symbol for Emily’s internal collapse, perhaps? Everything is a metaphor. Why am I messing around with the pump system besides trying to get it open the door? Why is Minesweeper a continuous puzzle? Why choose the word “Stay” as a word puzzle, why not something more relevant? The puzzles could’ve been exactly the same (besides number passcodes, can we try to come up with something more creative?), they just needed their theming changed to fit the story.
The art in Homebody has an aesthetic I really jive with. Kind of gritty and static like PlayStation 1 horror games, but smooth and simple 3D models and comic book-like dialog visuals (seriously it’s just a camera box facing the character, but has a great effect) make up an interesting environment. The clean lines and shapes make things easy to navigate and solve puzzles (but don’t get me started on the clunky Resident Evil-style camera angles). Characters do simple facial movements to help emphasize their reply, giving sarcastic context to their serious dialog. The UI is straightforward and pretty minimal. My only gripe is wanting to know if a clue is part of a solved or unsolved puzzle. I wish it saved puzzles you were working on so you could look at it in the menu without having to walk to the location. Puzzle hints that are dialog are also not stored anywhere, so you have to find a way to have them show again if you forget. I took screenshots and notes to help me solve some puzzles.
Homebody’s audio is mostly atmospheric and mostly unsettling. The sound effects were perfectly timed to hit scary jumps and cue the creepy vibes well. Some sounds can get monotonous, like the clunking of the grandfather clock heard throughout the house. Other scratching mechanical sounds feel like there’s something moving that you should be aware of, causing distraction more than creepiness. Don’t get me wrong, audio can play an important role in Homebody, there are auditory puzzles and you have to keep your ears peeled for sounds of the monster coming. I wonder if using even less audio would have made the game scarier. Instead of ambient scratches, what if it was the occasional gust of wind, house creaks, and your character breathing? Horror is better with less, as it’s the user’s imagination that comes up with the scary bits.
Jordan played Homebody on PC with a key provided by the developer. Homebody is also available on PlayStation 5, PlayStation 4, Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, and Xbox Series.