As I sat down to play Gone Home I prepared myself for anything. The new interactive story by (friend of MONG) Steve Gaynor and The Fullbright Company is one of the newer controversies within gaming culture. Gone Home has been managing to garner phenomenal critical reviews while still causing a minor uproar from niche groups on the Steam Community. However, both camps seem to agree—this is a game that people need to experience. After my third playthrough of the game in just two days, it is increasingly clear this video game will not appeal to some groups of gamers, yet takes the medium to new heights with the interactive experiments employed.
Gone Home, as an interactive storytelling game, understandably relies heavily on the story told. The genre is no stranger to the gaming community—though not a popular niche, the game falls within the ranks of System Shock, Heavy Rain, and Façade.
Without giving too many plot details away, Gone Home follows the disappearance of the Greenbriar family. Opening with an audio recording, you take over the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar, a mid-1990’s college student returning to America after trekking abroad through Europe. What Kaitlin returns to isn’t her childhood home though; rather the Oregon house left to their father by the estranged and “psycho” Uncle Oscar. An ominous note on the door, flickering lights, and absolute vacancy makes it clear that the house has been abandoned. It is up to the player as Kaitlin to find what happened to her missing family members through the remnants of the house.
The caliber of quality for interactive games truly relies on the story being told. Though the game will only take you about 2 hours to complete everything, the story is able to heavily tap into the player’s emotions (with a large credit given to Sarah Grayson’s voice over work). However the voice acting is only half the prize—what the game is able to so masterfully do is tell a story through the environment. The player is made to solve the mysterious disappearances through normal objects stacked around the house: your father’s stacks of unsold JFK conspiracy books, scattered shot glasses, notes from college roommates. It amazes me how attached I began to feel to the lives of my virtual family members while I was shuffling through their collection of board games.
The only caveat to this section: Make sure you fully understand that this game is the equivalent of a short story, not an epic. Accordingly, one shouldn’t expect a lengthy and elaborate tale along the likes of The Last of Us.
Gone Home’s graphics aren’t anything to write home about—not that it is a problem with the game at all. For an indie title, the game prides itself on the amount of realism and detail brought to the 90’s setting. Truth be told, I found myself slipping into nostalgia as I played scattered grunge-rock cassette tapes and noticed the Glow-in-the-Dark stars that used to cover covered my childhood room.
The elements of nostalgia share the stage with the overpowering horror environment. In the beginning of the title, I was wandering through the house with my knees shaking solely from the flickering lights and crashing lightning. Though the commentary tells us that the lights and sound effects are (with few exceptions) randomly generated, I couldn’t help but feel that every time I turned a corner or walked into a new room I saw scripted elements of horror. This speaks to the great atmosphere and environmental design in the game.
Complimenting both environments is Chris Remo’s masterfully mixed ambiance that truly sets the tone of the game. While it never steals the show, the music is most effective when it is able to bring out the highs and lows of the story.
The game follows in the same way you would expect from a normal point-and-click adventure game. In order to solve the disappearance of your family, the player is let loose in the house to solve puzzles, open up further elements of the home, and inspect objects throughout the environment. Although the game doesn’t add anything impressive to the formula, the player will never feel bored.
In fact, the reaction is quite the opposite—too often the game leaves the player wanting. With the hefty price tag of $20, one can fully complete the title within an hour and a half. I was able to listen to every piece of commentary and do two full run-throughs within the span of 6 hours. As a fan of interactive stories and myself a product of the 90’s, I had no issue forking over the hefty fee. However, for those who don’t know if they enjoy the type of game, it truly matters how disposable your income is.
VERDICT — 9.0 of 10
Gone Home is nearly impossible to score—as an experiment it soars to new highs within interactive storytelling, being one of the shining examples of the medium. However, its similar to comparing modern art to classic art. Overall, I would highly recommend the game; whether it is your type of game you like or not, it is one that you should experience. However, for those truly unsure of the purchase, you may want to wait until the game goes on sale.
Cover photo credit — @Sunnless.