Review: Gone Home

One of the best stories you’ll experience in a game

Gone Home is the first game made by The Fullbright Company, whose staff includes many of the individuals who worked on the Minerva’s Din DLC for Bioshock 2Gone Home has set a new benchmark for narrative in games. Gone Home feels like walking through a living memory. It sets out to tell a deeply personal story that resonated with me in a way I didn’t think a game could.

At it’s  heart Gone Home is about telling a sincere story through exploration. Everything work in service of the narrative. So if an experimental game focused on blending narrative and exploration sounds good to you, go pick up Gone Home, the best experience comes from going in blind. If you’re still not sure, keep reading.

Gone Home
PC, Mac (reviewed), Linux

Developer: The Fullbright Company
Publisher: The Fullbright Company
Released: August 15th, 2013
MSRP: $19.99

Beyond the initial set-up, this review won’t being going too in depth with the plot to Gone Home. The entire game centers around uncovering and piecing together the narrative. The most fulfilling experience comes from putting the clues together yourself, to get synopsis from a review would just deprive a player. Set in 1995, and you play Kaitlin Greenbriar, returning home after her year spent gallivanting around Europe. No one is home to greet you, and the only clue to your families whereabouts is an worrying note stuck to the front door left by your younger sister Sam.

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Gone Home plays from the first-person perspective, you can interact with your environment by manipulating objects. The game has no combat, but that’s not so say it lacks it’s fair share of tense moments. At it’s heart Gone Home is about exploration. You’ll rummage through desks, sort through crumpled notes, open doors, flip light switches, and comb every crevice of your abandoned home. Most objects in the environment can be manipulated in some way, but not everything is relevant to uncovering the mystery. This is nice as it avoids turning into a pixel hunt. How objects in the environment are placed feels very natural. Common household items are where you’d expect them to be, so there’s no tenuous search for obscure out of place things.

Whenever you come across a particularly important clue, Sam, Katie’s younger sister will start to narrate. Props need to be given to Sarah Robertson (Sam’s voice actress) who does a wonderful job.

“This Game feels like walking through a living memory.”

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While there is a single route to take through the game, how long it takes you, and in what order you uncover various parts of the narrative is all up to you. Not every piece of information is necessary to finish the game, and there’s plenty of hidden notes or clues hidden away. Take your time, play with a careful eye, and you may uncover something others have missed. Nothing is spelled out for you. Sam’s narration will help provide context for the next beat in the story, but it’s up to you to piece everything together.

There are three story lines to follow in Gone Home. One for each family member, mom, dad, and your sister Sam. All three go through a complete character arc, but it’s Sam who receives the most attention.

The game maintains a spooky atmosphere throughout most of the game. Small things like a tv static, thunder cracks, and the creaking of old wood. While Gone Home isn’t a horror game, there’s just enough tension to keep you on edge. This horror-esqe atmosphere works well with the story, to set a tone for your creepy vacant home. Even though there’s nothing to encourage the idea of ghosts or chainsaw wielding maniacs, it’s hard to remove the thought once it’s sunk in.

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Score: 9/10 – Review Scale

Gone Home is something special, it takes a small group of characters and makes each one sympathetic in their own unique way, without resorting to cheap tricks to tug at heart strings. The story told is incredibly genuine in it’s delivery, and it’s nice to have something smaller and more personal for once. How many times in other games have we saved the world? Or stopped the ultimate evil? Blah blah blah, you get the idea. When every game is turned up to 11, and tells a story with the subtlety of a sledgehammer, it gets tired real quick. So it’s nice to see something on a smaller scale tell a story and have enough respect for the player to expect them to understand what Gone Home has to offer.

The biggest hurdle for some will be the price point. $20 for a game that clocks in between 2-3 hours will be a little too steep for some people. I believe the game to be worth the price, but it’s understandable if you’re just looking to get the most bang for your buck. Regardless of price, Gone Home has set a new benchmark for story telling in games, and is on par with games like  The Walking Dead in terms of quality.

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About Charlie Elmer

His journey began when he received his older sister's hammy down SNES. Now he's here, how he arrived is unclear, but that's not important. He now tests his mettle here as an aspiring wordsmith.