My last caller was host to a Boggart, a seven-foot-tall horror that haunts the home and watches you sleep, occasionally breaking out the odd house fire and responding violently when seen. When your house has a Boggart, the only answer is to leave and never speak its name again. It knows when you talk about it. It responds accordingly.
I told her she had termites and she hasn't called back yet, so maybe it's fine. Or maybe I'm not cut out for the work of the Home Safety Hotline, an SCP Foundation-style retro horror game that tasks you with listening to callers' problems from in and around the home. Via a lovingly simulated '90s CRT interface (between this and Stonks-9800 I feel like we have to come up with a name for this kind of thing), your sole task is to identify the problem they're vaguely describing from a list and ping it over to them.
It's more gripping than it sounds—the game's off-kilter banality is very well done. You're a desk jockey working a phone line in the mid-'90s, but oddity creeps in round the edges and quickly ramps up. Your supervisor occasionally refers to you as "thee," an email in your inbox implores you to quit before it's too late, and before the week is out you're telling people to vacate their homes to escape Fire Sprites and the Fae Flu, both of which are described in your documents in the same dry, pest control tones that are used to tell you how to deal with house flies.
The puzzles are pretty tough but rarely feel unfair. Once you get a caller, you put them on hold—a dizzying sip at the power usually arrogated by receptionists and my mobile network operator—and leaf through your files, trying to put your finger on the problem your client is describing.
Thing is, of course, your employer is something of a clandestine organisation, and the general public isn't au fait with the world of Boggarts and Hobbs and the False Rose Bushes who hunt children in their gardens. They don't always emphasise the most important details. You often find yourself teasing out their real problems from their small asides.
For instance, one caller complains that his faucets must be contaminated or faulty, since he and his wife are wracked by terrible stomach pains. It'd be very easy to leaf through your multiple files on different pipe-and-faucet-based monsters to try to find the root of his problem, but it'd be a mistake. The caller also mentions he knows the problem isn't to do with their food, since he and his wife exclusively eat produce from their own garden.
Ah, well, what we have here is a classic False Beet situation: little terrors, identical to beets, that hide in among your root veg and wait for you to eat them, at which point they take root in your stomach and feast off your body for the rest of your life, with no possible cure. He probably would have preferred to hear he had a Pipe Hobb.
The calls aren't always tricky—the guy who calls in saying he keeps waking up with fresh cuts is obviously suffering from Bed Teeth—but it keeps you on your toes and keeps the puzzles from becoming rote. I don't fare so well when someone calls in at the same time as my (in-game) work PC experiences a "Network Error," forcing me to decide what problem they're describing by memory alone.
What's that you say, sir? A voice at night is tempting you with promises of unutterable wealth? It's probably uh, bees.
I'm not sure where the overall plot is headed, although I suspect it will conclude with me losing my mind and taking up residence in a hole in the office walls much like my predecessor. After grabbing my attention as my favourite demo from last July's Steam Next Fest, Home Safety Hotline is probably the first game to hit this year that's properly pushed my buttons. It's available now on Steam.