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Leon Hurley

This chill horror game about working in a supernatural call center makes me want a game where I'm just Giles from Buffy

Home Safety Hotline.

There's something almost otherworldly to the tedium of working in a call center. If you've never done it as a job then it's hard to understand just how much your sense of time can distort into the void as you wait for phone calls you don't want - by Monday morning 9.05am it can feel like weeks have past and maybe they have? Call centers don't obey the laws of nature and Home Safety Hotline steers hard into that weirdness, making it a much more entertaining prospect than the real thing, I promise. 

Please hold 

(Image credit: Night Signal Entertainment)

You see, the Home Safety Hotline asks the question 'what if the fae were real?' and then places you in an everyday(ish) call center where people phone in to ask why they can hear crying in the walls, or why something keeps tidying the living room when they leave out a saucer of milk overnight. You play as the newest HSH employee, tasked with taking phone calls where upset people asail you with details about strange problems in their house and expect you to have the answers. 

This simple task starts easily enough because sometimes it is just frozen pipes making a weird noise, or mice in the attic scratching about. This somewhat more earthly list of problems is a handy way of learning the loop at least - someone calls in with a problem and asks you to solve it. The important thing is to pay attention to what they say - anything might be a clue to what's causing their upset. So every noise, smell, sound and such they mention needs to be noted as you look through an initially small list of potential causes. 

So, you'll get a call and generally they'll be angry or upset about something. However, as they shout at you, you'll have to listen out for things you can use when you put them on hold to look things up. Someone mentions sneezing? Time to comb your files for anything that might explain that… Hmm, black mold can cause an allergic reaction? Once you've got a candidate you can send them the information and, if you're right, you won't get an angry call later because your advice didn't work.  

Just like a real job your work is split into days, topped and tailed by Carol, your supervisor, calling to let you know how you've done. Each day you unlock more entries and, as things get more and more supernatural, you'll have to really crack out the detective skills. The more entries you get the harder it is to parse the clues. Although one of the clever touches here is the down time between calls - as you wait around a bit you can't help but look at the various files and entries to pass the time and, slowly, some of that information starts to sink in. Someone can hear singing? In a greenhouse? That's got to be a False Flower - harmless as long as you don't try to disturb them, at which point they'll release toxic chemicals. Just water them regularly and try to ignore the singing…

Answer the call 

(Image credit: Night Signal Entertainment)

The people who ring up are generally clueless about the supernatural and often call in after being referred by a helpful doctor or police officer that do seem to know about otherworldly issues. That means they don't always understand what they're reporting, so they might talk about break ins, noises, and smells from the perspective of someone expecting burglars or rats. That lack of clarity, along with the sheer volume of entries you can unlock towards the end, can make it quite challenging sometimes to pin down a case. 

I think it could be a little clearer to pin things down, if I'm honest, as the descriptions are quite wooly, occasionally, in a way that's hard to categorically pin down. Each entry gives you an image of something - which could be anything from bees to a sinister pair of eyes in the darkness of a basement - along with a description of the entity, its dangers and possible solutions. However, even with all that help, every now and then there were callers with info that never seemed to entirely match the records exactly, no matter how hard I checked. It didn't always feel like I was missing something, more an occasional lack of clarity. 

(Image credit: Night Signal Entertainment)

Although, being a bit unsure might be part of the point here, seeing as you're playing a mere mortal peering beyond the veil. As things get weirder and more entries appear, the game occasionally shuts you out of the system, forcing you to try and answer calls just from memory alone. As things progress there are a few strange events - odd calls, glitches, messages and videos that appear on your very early 2000s style computer screen. I don't want to spoil any of that though, it's far better to experience it as it happens. 

Home Safety Hotline is a pretty chill experience overall. There's something almost comfortingly gentle about sitting at a dated computer screen flicking through files about house goblins, while waiting for Karens to shout at you because there's a dead wizard trapped in their mirror. I'd almost like something even deeper after playing this: a proper, in-depth detective game with photos, security camera footage and more to really give you some stuff to investigate as you cross reference details. Basically, the more I think about it, the more I just want to play a game where I'm Giles from Buffy trying to work out what that monster is that week. But for now, at least, the Home Safety Hotline has scratched that itch. 

Home Safety Hotline is out now on PC. Find out what else we've been loving this year in our Indie Spotlight series. 

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