This is a game unlike anything else I’ve ever played before. It’s a video-game, but only in name, because deep down, Gone Home is so much more than that. It’s described as a first-person story exploration game, but that’s only the most basic description for it.
You play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, a young woman who, upon returning home from a year-long trip abroad, discovers her family to be missing from their large house with no explanation. What follows is a mysterious, haunting, and extremely intimate tale of family, and more importantly, love.
Developed by The Fullbright Company for PC and Mac, Gone Home is really something special, but it’s bound to form mixed opinions amongst players. While applauded by critics everywhere, the subject matter in Gone Home, which I will not spoil here, is both personal and slightly unsettling. I’ll admit that I didn’t love it the way others surely have, but Gone Home is special because it made me think, really think, and few games can admit to doing that.
As you explore the mostly accessible home of the Greenbriar family, you’ll discover a fully-realized, breathing world that not only feels lived in, but comes across as a house you could very easily identify as your own. One of the things Fullbright does best with the game is to make the home feel alive. You can hear the fierce thunderstorm just outside, and almost feel the way the home moans as you meander through its many corridors.
While the environment is dark and slightly creepy, until you switch on the lights that is, this is in no way a horror game. The only fear you’ll experience will be figurative or self-made. There’s no evil entity hiding in the shadows, no skeleton around the next corner; the only enemy you’ll encounter is your own nerves.
And in a house that is so obviously alive with stories, your nerves will most likely get the better of you on several occasions. The lighting and mood are consistently dark, but I think I would’ve preferred it if Fullbright didn’t pull as many ‘scary-moment-fake-outs,’ as it brought me out of the experience just a little.
In Gone Home’s first-person gameplay, you have the option to pick and examine almost anything that isn’t bolted to the floor. Tissue boxes, books, pencils, notes, and even toys can all be moved and examined and it adds a very personal touch to the way you play the game, even if there is some repetition in their design.
You can scour the house for anything that might shed light (both literally and figuratively) on the the many myteries you’re faced with, or, if you prefer, you can cut right to the chase, although you’ll miss out on an incredibly thought-proving story if you do so. Indeed, Gone Home’s story, or more accurately, stories, are both subtle and shocking, and if you take the time to seek them out, they will probably astonish you.
Fullbright has imbued their world with a story that is solely told through the physical environment and the spoken journal entries of your character’s younger sister Sam. While the focus is certainly on Sam and her story, there are plot threads that meander just below the surface that are so satisfying to find that you’d be foolish to ignore them.
And to make things better, Gone Home sports some of the best voice-acting of the year as well. Both Katie and Sam’s voice-acting is truly top-notch and gives most triple-A gaming titles a run for their money. It’s so good, in fact, that I identified with these characters in a way that really surprised me.
It was easy for me to identify with Katie as she tried to find out what became of her family, but what surprised me is the extent to which I did. I lived as Katie for the games three-hour run time, and I grew to love Sam not as a character, but as a younger sibling who’s lost her way. And that’s what makes Gone Home so special.
I may not agree with all the themes it brings up, but this game doesn’t ask you to accept them, it just asks that you think about them. And with the amount of depth shown here, I was more than happy to oblige. This is an experience that will stick with me for a long, long time, and for better or worse, I’m glad I took the opportunity to live as a member of the Greenbriar family.
Story: 9/10 – It gets a little turned around at one point, but overall Gone Home’s story is one worth experiencing. It’s both intimate and tragic, but most importantly, it demands that you actually think about the moral topics you’re faced with, even if you don’t agree with them. And that alone is worth the price of admission.
Gameplay: 9/10 – The first-person perspective does a magnificent job of engrossing you in the story, and the amount of detail in the environment is staggering. You’ll probably want to turn down the camera’s sensitivity though.
Presentation: 8.5/10 – The unsettling tone of Gone Home exists in every conceivable place, and it really adds to the realism of the experience. However, the repetition of certain objects in the environment snapped me back to reality every so often.
Graphics: 8/10 – Some of the in-game items look a little blurry, especially the photographs, but Gone Home’s visuals are so wonderfully designed that the home you find yourself in feels shockingly familiar.
Replay Value: 7.5/10 – For its twenty-dollar price tag, Gone Home falls a little on the short side, and while I will certainly revisit the game in the future, nothing will top that first experience.