Indie Game of the Month: House is a point and click horror on a time-limit

Despite when this article goes up, this is the Indie Game of the Month for October, which means I had to highlight something spooky. I played a ton of different horror indie games this month, some huge productions, some small game jam projects, but House is the one that I remembered. Yes, this little $5 game that released right at the end of October was the indie horror that really stuck with me, for one reason: time.

So House is at its core a point-and-click adventure. You take the role of a young girl in a small family who lives in a… rather dubious house. You have a sister, a mom who tries her best but has a bit of an alcohol problem, a dad who is often out to work, and a cat. You also have a ghost in your toilet, a giant rat that wants to kill you, a rotting corpse in the basement, and several Lovecraftian horrors lurking in your fridge.

…the house was on discount.

It’s your job to… well just to survive. That’s where House’s first neat little gameplay tweak comes in, it’s non-linear. There is no one right way to survive. You can use the items you find around the house in several different ways to try to last the night. Take an ax to your toilet and the ghost won’t bother you anymore. Take an ax to your cat, and you might get the key underneath him. Take an ax to your mom? Oh you are deranged, aren’t you?

Once again, at its this has the same point-and-click adventure vibes of an old Sierra game where you rub everything on everything else. The thing is, each item interacts with many things, and so you’ll find yourself accidentally committing horrible acts in your curiosity. This is great! I cannot tell you how often I accidentally murdered or maimed a family member and came out of the act going “this is who I am now.”

And the way you solve these problems eventually determines the ending you get. Do you save your family? Do you become one of the horrors of the house? Do you end up somewhere in between, sacrificing the family members that may be behind these horrors in the first place? What are you going to do with that shotgun?

All of this is further complicated by the time element that I mentioned before. You see, daddy is coming home from work, and time waits for no one. The clock is always ticking and the closer you get to midnight, the more spooky things start happening. For example, a carpet might just be a carpet in the early morning, but late at night, it might become an impossible living spike trap that hunts you down.

This creates a sense of urgency that causes you to make snap judgments, and snap judgments are not always the… kindest. Your first few playthroughs will have you committing random acts of violence simply due to panic. It will take quite a few runs before you start to piece the puzzle together.

But even then, the game loves to put even more time pressure on you. For example, certain puzzles require you to be in certain rooms at certain times. The thing is, you can’t just wait out the clock in that room, ready to solve the puzzle. There is a shadow that is always chasing you, which gets closer the longer you spend doing nothing. The closer to midnight it gets, the more aggressive the shadow becomes. That means you always have to actively be doing something in order to survive, and your desperate attempts to fill time will once again cause you to take some pretty horrid actions.

All of this comes together to create the exact feeling the game is trying to express: everything is out to get you. Nearly every room, every object, every person in the house might kill you. Every item can contribute to your gruesome death. Your family cannot be trusted. Even time itself is conspiring against you. That’s where the horror of House comes from.

The only problem? It’s short. Since every run is timed, you’ll find yourself only playing each for about 10-15 minutes, depending on how quickly you die. It will only take a little over an hour, maybe two, to find all the endings and branching paths. Once again, House is only $5, so a short length is to be expected, and frankly, a longer game probably couldn’t support this mechanic. Sometimes horror games are just better in the short form. Just look at Five Nights at Freddy’s.

So if you are still in the mood for some horror (even though it is assuredly November by now) then check out House. It’s a great way to make yourself terrified and stressed out… you know… for fun!