Okay, well, there’ll be a little ado. Y’see, once again, The Fullbright Company‘s opus is one of those games that’s difficult to review in my traditional style. Specifically, it’s a game in which a clean slate and no expectations are more or less necessary to get the full intended experience. So doing what I usually do — talking candidly about my first hour or so of experiences with the game — would have the entirely unintended side-effect of lessening your own experience with it.
So here’s what I’ll do instead. Given Gone Home’s length, and its general conduciveness to being played in a single sitting, I can rather safely assume that you, reader, either have or have not played through Gone Home in its entirety already. This review will be split along the same lines, finally using the two-page system for something other than novelty: on the first page, I’ll introduce the game in a spoiler-free manner for those of you interested in learning about it, while on the second I’ll go a little more in-depth and talk about my own experiences with it.
Gone Home: So You Haven’t Played It Yet
Gone Home is a game in which you take the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar, an American twenty-something recently home from her trip around the strange and mysterious Europe. At the game’s start, you find yourself on the porch of your parents’ Portland house, home to mom, dad and your sister, Sam.
You called ahead — on short notice — to let everyone know you were coming, but nobody appears to be home. Which in and by itself wouldn’t necessarily alarming, but… well:
Of course, the phrase ‘don’t go digging around to find out where I am’ could only be more behaviour-triggering if you appended ‘there’s definitely no candy hidden around the house either’, so the rest of the game involves doing just that. Where did Sam go? Where are mom and dad? And why doesn’t Sam want mom and dad to know where she went?
As you can tell from the screenshots, Gone Home is a first-person-perspective… let’s say explore-em-up. Controls are simple, which is to say that controls are this:
The massive, creepy house you explore is filled to the brim with manipulable object, which for the most part handle quite intuitively: binary-state items like drawers, doors and light switches work pretty much as you expect, and other objects can be grabbed, held, rotated, placed ‘back’ in their original location and thrown…
…and documents are read, surprisingly enough. There’s even a text overlay option for the stuff that might be a little difficult to read.
Gone Home is ludically a pretty minimalistic game: there’s a small inventory that certain items get placed in, and a few puzzles to solve, but for the most part all you do is… well, I’d say ‘explore’, but even that might be a stretch. You walk around the house. A really big house, mind! There’s a reason they give you a map.
Many reviews talk about Gone Home’s environments in glowing terms, and it’s easy to see why: size notwithstanding, it’s amazing how much this house feels like an actual house. An actual empty house in a thunderstorm at night, no less. So on the one hand, there’s creaking and lightning flashes and unexpected noise and if you’re anything like me, you leave all the lights on… but on the other hand, it’s clearly a house that people live in. There’s clutter here and there, letters and notes and receipt, and the rooms feel purposeful and lived in. The living room has a pillow fort in it.
And don’t tell me this isn’t both cool and just a little unnerving:
The sound design adds to the atmosphere immeasurably, with the lack of background music really allowing the environmental sounds to work to great effect. Next to the little (optional, player-instigated) music there is, the main source of auditory diversion in Gone Home is Sam’s voice diaries. You can turn these off, if you want to, but you really shouldn’t.
Oh, and the whole thing takes place in 1995. Meaning the (land-line) phone is rotary, there’s cassette players all over the place, and the X-Files are only just in the tail end of their second season.
And… that already about hits the limit for what I can talk about here! Gone Home is a first-person game in which you explore an abandoned house at night, trying to discover where your parents are and your sister went. It’s not a long game, light on what I would disparagingly call ‘actual gameplay’, and a little steeply-priced at close to twenty Steam dollars, but if that first description caught your fancy I can almost guarantee you’ll have a good time with it.
And if it didn’t… well, Gone Home is definitely not a game for everyone. I’d still recommend you err on the side of trying it out, though: it’s not that big a time investment, and without wishing to spoil, the whole thing is an experience that — while not flawless — is undeservedly rare in modern gaming. But more about that on the second page, if you have the nerve.
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