Home Safety Hotline review: thoughtful weirdness that left me wanting more

I worked on the phones when I was in pension admin, years ago, and I fielded some weird ones, but nothing quite as weird as the calls in Home Safety Hotline. It’s, technically, I suppose, a horror game about manning a call line through a 90s CRT-screen PC, where people will be like “my kitchen is full of droppings that look like coffee grounds, what do?”. You look through your list of potential household hazards and select the right one, so your caller gets sent the info on dealing with cockroaches. Except as your week at HSH goes on, your calls start to be less roaches, more “my house smells like death and my dog is acting strangely” or “I can see someone looking through my window at night and hear them breathing heavily.”

Spoiler warning: Home Safety Hotline is one of those games that changes as you play, but it’s sort of impossible to write about it without discussing that, so if you want to go in cold then you should stop reading.

And I say it’s technically a horror game because one of the things I like most about Home Safety Hotline it is that I did start playing it like I was manning a hotline. For better or for worse, I found the entries on Spriggans and Kobolds and the self-generating heaps of trash called The Horde to be sort of charming, so by the end I was listening to frantic calls and sort of spiritually open-mouth chewing a sandwich and slurping coffee, leaning back in my chair. “Ah yeah, that’s yer standard Bed Teeth you’ve got there mate,” kind of vibe. I only wished I could have asked callers for more details – “Would you say the damage to your walls are more base-level cracks or holes?” – because your index has a lot of extra information and sometimes you just have to make a punt.

Much of the joy of HSH is in the index entries. If you get things wrong, sometimes people call back screaming at you (RIP to the kid who vanished into the wardrobe). The collision of magical beasts, creepy images, and dry, corporate textbook in the writing style describing said beasts is pretty excellent – especially when the advice is basically “you can’t do anything” – and one can’t help but appreciate the ones that have audio samples. Sometimes, especially early on, the danger is in assuming someone’s house is infested with a type of little monster when they actually have something more mundane like termites. It also very effectively captures having to interpret what a member of the public phoning a service is actually saying, sifting through it for personal information. It’s easy to make a mistake, but spotting that the heating not working is not as important a detail as a child haivng braces gives one the satisfaction of a job well done.

A weird caller called Buzz Goober saying he has 'Snappers itchin' and whoopin, cryin' all over the place' in Home Safety Hotline
Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Night Signal Entertainment

A caller in Home Safety Hotline ringing to say he can't remember his wife's face

A frantic email from a former employee at Home Safety Hotline, letting you know their hiding place has been found

Shout out to the desktop interface, though, it’s great. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Night Signal Entertainment

Remembering all your index info becomes an acute challenge on some calls where the system goes down. Normally you can listen to a call, put them on hold and then browse at your leisure, but when the network breaks you have to make your best guess based on what you remember. It’s a neat trick to make you actually read the index and pay attention, so you can’t go full call centre drone mode. This memory test is also part of the end-game challenge for promotion, which made me jealous of my player character to be honest, and I won’t spoil it, but it does sort of tie in with my main disappointment. Early on Home Safety Hotline shows signs that it’ll get properly creepy, with unlogged calls from distored voices, desperate warning emails from a former employee, and some creepy infomercial videos turning up on your desktop. But these things, while cool, all seem to just… go away.

The former employee is caught. The weird caller is found and cut out of the system. I don’t necessarily want Home Safety Hotline to be the actually horrifying sort of horror game, and in fact I really like version of the world where trolls are potentially dangerous but you just have to treat them like the sort of mundane annoyance represented by black mold. It’s not an accident that the game is called Home Safety Hotline and the creatures are all from homely folk tales.

But the unresolved threads feel less like other unexplained mysteries in the world and more like, well, unresolved threads. Home Safety Hotline is definitely in the Daniel Mullins vein of game ideas, where a game starts as something and becomes something else, and while Home Safety Hotline is very thoughtful and has a brilliant framing, it never fully transformed. Which is perhaps ironic, given the ending.

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