Developer: The Fullbright Company
Publisher: The Fullbright Company
Format: PC, PlayStation 4 (Reviewed), Xbox One
Copy obtained via PlayStation Plus
As I walked through the hallways, climbed up the staircases, and poked around the multitude of rooms strewn throughout Gone Home’s abandoned mansion, I constantly had chills running down my spine. There’s a very distinctive atmosphere to the game, one defined by the lightning flashing outside the windows, the rain continuously whispering above you, and all of the creaks and groans the old home makes as you explore it.
However, as truly marvelous as Gone Home’s atmosphere is, it’s the equally beautiful and heartbreaking tale it weaves that really stands out. It’s a masterpiece of storytelling and a shining example of video games as a means of delivering a powerful narrative.
In Gone Home, you play as Kaitlin Greenbriar.
Kaitlin is a 21-year old returning to the U.S. to visit her family after spending a year abroad. Upon arriving at her families new abode, she discovers that her parents and younger sister are missing and must piece together where they are and what has happened.
To do this, you must search for clues which are scattered all over the house.
These come in the form of audio diaries, letters to friends, and notes from different businesses. Each family member has their own story to figure out, and I highly recommend going into the game with as little knowledge about their stories as possible. With that being said, I won’t say another word about the plot specifics.
As you try to piece everything together, you’ll spend a lot of time examining objects, searching through boxes and closets, and reading notes. Unfortunately, this is going to be a large turnoff to a majority of players. There’s no combat, no puzzles, and nothing that feels like an average video game. Gone Home is fully centered around exploring an empty, gigantic home and taking a look at the lives of those who inhabited it.
The thing I really appreciated about this, is that the game is set in 1995.
As someone who was born in the early 90’s, there’s so many crazy little things about this house the felt familiar to my own childhood. You can find stacks of VHS tapes with movies recorded from television on them, soda and bags of chips can be found with labels that look extremely similar to how I remember them, and I even stumbled across a Lisa Frank style folder that my sister had hundreds of. Exploring this house feels like entering a time machine full of Easter eggs and nostalgia.
It was actually quite refreshing to play a more laid back game like this.
There’s no need to rush, no way to reach a “game over” screen, and there’s just something nice about playing slowly and exploring an environment. Those with an open mind for something different are going to find Gone Home to be a delightful surprise.
Now there’s one last thing I want to discuss, but I’m going to have to be vague about it.
The standout story in this game is the one revolving around your younger sister, Samantha. I’m not going to give spoilers, because her story deserves to be experienced without any knowledge, but I want to give it an extra shout-out. Sam’s story is one that I haven’t seen told in a video game before. It’s one that I couldn’t relate to on a personal level, but it made me understand what she was going through and how she felt, which is something I give a round of applause to developer Fullbright Games for. I honestly don’t think this could have been achieved to the same affect if done in any other medium.
I really do think Gone Home is something special.
It tells an excellent tale, has a wonderful atmosphere, and makes something as simple as reading notes and listening to audio tapes thoroughly engaging. The emphasis on exploration, reading, and listening is going to turn away a lot of players, but those with an open mind are going to find a lot to appreciate. Gone Home also deserves praise for tackling a subject most video games don’t engage with and making it something anyone can sympathize and feel a connection to. The game only takes about 2 hours to fully run through and experience everything, so turn off the lights, put on a good pair of headphones, and settle down for the night with something a little bit different.
– Zack Burrows