First released in August of 2013 on the PC, Gone Home is a game that emphasizes personal connection above all else. Told from a first person perspective, you play as Katie Greenbriar, a young woman visiting her family’s new home in 1995 after traveling around in Europe for a year. However, upon arriving at her home, there is no one to greet her at the door, and she finds the house completely deserted. The rest of the time is spent piecing together clues in the house through interacting with just about every object in the environment.
Gone Home Console Edition: Xbox One [Reviewed], PlayStation 4
Developers: Fullbright Company
Publisher: Midnight City
Release Date: 13 January 2016
You can pick just about every household item in the mansion, from posters, records, letters, books and notes. Interacting with certain objects results in Samantha (Katie’s younger sister) narrating a series of journal voiceovers, which gives you some insight into her life as a member of the Greenbiar family. In this sense, Gone Home is more like a mystery tale above anything else. Much like Katie, this is the players first time into this home, so the main objective of the game is to use all the info lying around in the house to construct the story yourself. There are little puzzles to solve as well, which includes finding the combination to lockers and safes, as well as discovering secret hidden passageways in the mansion.
There isn’t a right or wrong way to explore the house. You’re free to enter just about any room you want from the beginning, and there isn’t a particular order of things you need to follow in order to reach the conclusion. In fact, it’s entirely possible to finish the game in about a minute, which speedrunners have accomplished by beating the game in under a minute. It’s because of this that Gone Home can be as shallow or engaging as you want it to be. Exploring every room while interacting with every object provides more insight into the family’s trials and tribulations; including her fathers failed attempts as a writer, to her parent’s troubled marriage, and even Samantha’s secret relationship with another girl from her school.
Graphically speaking, Gone Home is presented in a way that fits the time period it takes place in quite well. The entertainment center is filled with VHS tapes, there is an old Super Nintendo system lying in one of the rooms, closets are littered with plaid filled clothing and the rest of the household items seems like it was lifted from a 90’s Sears catalogue. Exploring the house felt a bit like going through a time machine back to that time period, and it was easy to get lost in the novelty of the surrounding as I was unraveling the mystery. There is plenty of 90’s pop culture references littered around the house as well, which will be a bit nostalgic for anyone who grew up in the 90’s. However, beyond the exploration there is very little in the way of interaction in the game. Most items can simply be picked up and looked at through different angles, but that’s about it.
Once you do finish the game, there are a few incentives for going back and replaying it for a second time. First off, there are modifiers. These modifiers slightly change the way the game plays which can make it easier or simply change the experience. These include being able to turn on all the lights instantly, having all the doors unlocked instantly, or disabling the map. These modifiers don’t change the experience drastically, but they do just enough to help players who may be new to gaming or just having a hard time with the puzzles. Also included is Commentary Mode, which includes an hour and a half of audio content that reveals the behind-the-scenes details on the making of Gone Home. These are accessed by interacting with various icons throughout the house, and are basically like the directors commentaries that come with most DVD movies. The insights provided by the developmental team and voice actor gives some interesting stories in the development of the game.
While it’s been over 2 years since its release, Gone Home is still one of the most unique games out there. It’s a game that encourages players to care about the personal lives of this fictional family, and it does it in a nuanced yet elegant way. The writing is excellent, and every object that you interact with in the house, regardless of how trivial they are, each succeeds in adding to the narrative experience. It’s a game that doesn’t insult the player’s intelligence by shoving down the narrative down your throat. Rather, it encourages players to solve the mystery of the Greenbriar family through careful observation and putting the pieces of the puzzle in the household together themselves. Those looking for a challenging experience may be left disappointed by the game’s lack of difficult puzzles or things to do beyond exploration, but Gone Home shines in telling a compelling story if players are willing to search for it themselves.