Written by Kevin Kennedy, @thekevmiester
Gone Home is the first game made by The Fullbright Company, a newly formed studio (2012) consisting of former 2K employees whose most notable work is the critically acclaimed DLC content Bioshock 2: Minerva’s Den. It’s reminiscent of Bioshock in some aspects, but is still a rather unique and defined experience.
In an attempt to Pigeon-hole it, Gone Home could best be described as an adventure game, though there are very few puzzles to solve and only a handful of keys. This game is about the story, akin to something like Dear Esther or even Proteus. Does it fair up in comparison?
The year is 1995. You play as Kate Greenbriar, a young woman who has returned to her family in the US after a year of traveling in Europe. She arrives expecting a warm welcome from her family, but instead finds a locked door, an empty house and a note from her sister saying that she is gone, asks that you don’t tell Mum and Dad and that you will meet again “someday”.
Upon gaining entry to the house, your only goal is to explore and find clues as to what happened in the year that you have been gone. Throughout your investigation you will be told a coming of age tale with themes of loneliness, acceptance and child like rebellion. The family moved to the “Psycho” house while Kate was gone, so it is as new to her as it is to you.
While it may not be an entirely original tale, the way in which it is told with an unapologetic, sincere gusto, it’s easy to get wrapped up into things and eager to find that next piece of information. The story and the setting are king here; there is an endgame, in-fact if you know what you’re doing it is entirely possible to complete the game in about ninety seconds, but doing so would cause you to miss out on what the game is really about.
After completing the game, I couldn’t help but feel that something was missing, so I immediately booted up my save (which thankfully takes you to the very moment before the ending) and continued my exploration for at least another hour.
The main story is of Kate’s sister, Sam, as she deals with being the new kid in school from the “psycho” house. There are, however, side stories to explore, including the Father’s attempt at publishing his novels and the Mother being promoted in her environmental line of work. While these stories give merely a tenuous link at best to the main storyline, they are still appreciated as they paint the picture of a house that had 101 things going on at any given time as opposed to the entire house being caught up in the antics of one little girl.
While I initially wished for some more closure with these side stories, the amount of ambiguity (and at times outright confusion) helps paint a better picture of a household that feels distinctly ill-equipped to deal with the troubles of a growing teenager. A couple of loose ends will definitely send me to the forums though.
As a whole though, the story is genuinely told. It may be initially strange to suddenly hear diary entries that appear from nowhere, but it bleeds seamlessly into the aesthetic of the game and even acts as an indication that you are heading in the right direction. It feels very much life a Bioshock game, with Audio-logs being replaced with diary entries and the corpse of Rapture being replaced with an abandoned house that is explored in the aftermath of a traumatic ordeal.
That is where the similarities to BioShock end though, as there is no combat in Gone Home whatsoever. You can walk about (no sprinting), zoom in, pick things up and crouch. That’s it, and that’s all you need. There is an awful lot to interact with though, with a light-switch in almost every room, cassette tapes to listen to (welcome to the nineties) and cupboards to rake through. The controls work as well as they need to do. You may have the occasional trouble putting your cursor in the precise item to pick up an object but nothing too troublesome. There is even quite a neat addition which allows you to put an item back in the exact position you found it, limiting the amount of mess you can make. The option to throw things about is still available though.
The details of the house itself are lovingly crafted. As a nineties child myself, my personal favorite touch are the VHS recordings of classic TV shows and movies that littered the TV room’s shelves. A very nice and welcome touch, are the high resolution notes and pictures found about the house. Whereas in many games you have to “inspect” a picture to get a better look at it, it is possible to simply look at an item and gleam the information you need right off of it.
While hardly a horror game, but there is still an uneasy tension that resides throughout the entire house, similar to being alone in your own home, with nothing but strange house noises to keep you company. There is the occasional mention to Ghosts and Poltergeists, but the excellent sound design and setting was enough to make my hairs stand on end whenever I entered a new environment or confuse a plant for a body for the 10th time.
As mentioned, the sound design is super. While your echoing footsteps are usually the only thing you can hear along with the rain, it certainly does set the atmosphere. The graphics are basic, though there is one technical aspect I feel I should mention. I’m hardly a gear head when it comes to gaming PC’s but I have a decent enough rig that can run Far Cry 3 on the highest settings.
With the settings here at their lowest, the game can still chug a little. Nothing too drastic though it did affect game-play a touch. Strangely enough, I found that playing it on my Mac actually yielded better results. Indie titles usually require little to no research before picking up, though I would at least exercise a little caution before picking it up, just to be safe.
Gone Home is an incredibly genuine, lovely game that may well stick with you upon completion (I’m still convinced that there is a hidden ending somewhere). The tale itself may be well trodden ground, and perhaps even something of an afterthought, but you can’t say it isn’t a well explored one told with a great degree of warmth. While Dear Esther and Proteus perhaps have more tone and style to work with, Gone Home trumps them both when it comes to telling a meaningful, interesting tale and creating a world that you actually feel a part of, as opposed to simply just visiting.
While hardly breaking the bank, the price-tag may seem high for what’s on offer, it certainly did to me, but I leave that for each buyer to judge for themselves; a sale is always around the corner, at which point I can wholeheartedly recommend at least checking this game out, though if you already feel yourself getting grabbed, by all means get it now.
The Final Word: A Genuine, heartfelt experience that will take some back to their childhood, while simply taking others on a journey that you must see to the end.