Gone Home is a brilliant drama for those with the patience to play it. It might not appeal to those that prefer their shadows filled with monsters, not memories, but for everyone else with an hour or two spare, this game is well worth your time.
It might not involve saving the world from annihilation or the princess from a castle, in fact, it might not feel like a video game you’re used to playing at all; but it is an excellent game, even if it can feel more like a play at times. Gone Home is built with a very old school point and click feel to it, a genre that was all but abandoned about a decade ago, but it works perfectly for the stories being told, and is a nice change of tempo from the fast paced explosions of other games on the market.
You play as Katie, the eldest daughter who arrives home from a year long European expedition to find her families new house empty. And although Katie may be the main character, she certainly isn’t the star of Gone Home. From the mother, alienated from her husband, to the father stuck in the past, to the youngest daughter struggling to find herself, everyone else is the focus of Gone Home told through everyday objects lying around the house. Even Oscar, the former owner of the house has some stories to tell within the grand walls of this secluded mansion. Gone Home is an as close to perfect example of storytelling through settings.
During the game you will never meet the family, but you’ll learn and care about them as you patiently explore each room, putting story fragments together with notes, letters and books. It’s actually fascinating how much you can work out from such simple items, and its very satisfying when you start to see the bigger picture from the clues.
Gone Home is a game about domestic problems, but that doesn’t mean there is nothing tense about the domestic. Although it has the air of a horror game, isolated in creepy seemingly abandoned house with a dark history, you’ll soon realise that this game isn’t about monsters or demons but the life of other people. You might even feel like a voyeur as you hunt for light switches and clues to the family past. Unlocking private drawers and delving into the secrets that it yields.
Despite being supposedly open to explore, Gone Home is very cleverly designed to slide you down a certain path, discovering each fragment in just the right order. And this is especially crucial as each thread begins to reach their dramatic climax. Its possible to miss huge sections of the story without losing out on the context, which gives you another reason to play it again and discover other portions of the larger story. It’s a nice touch that makes the game feel even richer when you reach the tense conclusion.
It’s hard to talk about everything that makes Gone Home such a good game, because it is so much better to play it for yourself. Apart from the incredible depth of character, and the impressive and unusual delivery, there is also truly remarkable acting. Picking up certain objects will unlock journal entries from Sam. They’re read aloud as you continue exploring but they are so well spoken, with a real range of emotion that truly captures the mood of each entry.
The audio all round is as well crafted as the rest of the game. It has a beautifully subtle score, and is then punctuated with cassette tapes found around the house. Like everything else they hint at the people who live there, notably Sam, and the era they live in.
Gone Home is set in the nineties, which might feel like an odd contemporary-ish choice for the game, but the more you play the more it becomes evident why. Firstly, this game is obviously created by people who lived in the era, and possibly have a connection to the story themselves. They know exactly how each character feels and act in any given situation, which adds an sense of honesty to the game that is hard to find in others.
Secondly, if it was based in the here-and-now, you would have no need to explore the house to discover the family. You would stumble in from the storm, collapse on the nearest sofa and begin to casually search through everyone’s laptop, email, diary and facebook. Because that is what the game feels like, you learn the most personal details about everyone through the most intimate and the most mundane details. Even something as simple as the way Sam completes her homework gives a closer look at her personality and motives.
It might not be that long, and it might not have the gut punching intensity of a game like Last of Us, but it is a clever and emotional journey through the lives of people you might know. It reminds the player that other people hold secrets we might never know about them, and their lives can revolve around completely different circles we might never experience. Given the chance, everyone should play Gone Home, whether you like it, because it is something worth talking about.
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