Gone Home is a game that I’ve seen mentioned in passing a few times over the past year or so, but not a game that has garnered a ton of attention. Rightfully so, it is an indie game developed by a few members from the BioShock 2 team who left to “go indie,” as they say. They wanted to make a game that was the kind of game that they wanted to play, to tell a story like they wanted to tell in BioShock 2, more specifically the Minerva’s Den DLC, without all of the waves of enemies and the gunplay. They wanted a more personal experience, one that would stick with you.
To put it simply, if you need violence in video games or dislike the idea of suspense without real puzzles (so-to-speak) or skill-based gameplay, you’ll find yourself incredibly impatient with a game like Gone Home. If you were able to play through Dear Esther and found yourself wanting more and not caring about the endless wave of “is this even a game?” pontification you’ll find on the internet, this is the game that you’ve been waiting for and it is tremendous.
Not many games take you on a journey like this, filling in small details and letting your imagination fill in the blanks, yet that is exactly what Gone Home does. Gone Home tells a very personal story about Katie, a girl who left home to travel around Europe, who comes home one night on short notice only to find a note on the front door from her younger sister, Sam, and no one else in sight. The lights in the house flicker, clothes thrown everywhere, drawers have been rummaged through and every television set is producing static, with loose RCA cables around.
It’s clear that something happened here, something has led to Katie returning home to an empty, unwelcoming home, and she is determined to find out where everyone has gone. The house is large and contains quite a few secrets and locked doors, but you’ll piece together details about the family through notes left around the house, the books that they read, some of the cards that you’ll find strewn about and through your sister Sam’s journal entries that play when you reach a trigger point in the game.
Katie left home to travel the world during a confusing time for Sam, who was left in a new house, with a reputation for being haunted, in a new school all while her big sister is gone. It becomes very clear early on that Sam has missed her big sister and increasingly clear that she wishes that Katie was there for her. Gone Home is an exploration of the mundane minutiae of everyday life and familial relationships that will leave you wanting more, continually pushing into the next room for more clues as to your family’s whereabouts. There has been a lot of heartbreak within the family, a lot of hurt that has left behind an empty home, all while you are trying to come to conclusions within your head as to what has happened.
Gone Home is not a particularly long game, as I’ve seen quotes of two hours to five hours in various news outlets, but it really depends on the gamer and how fast they can read and put together the pieces. My playthrough lasted 108 minutes, which makes it just twenty minutes longer than my first Dear Esther playthrough of 81 minutes. If for some reason you feel uneasy dropping $20 on something that is that quick, turn back now, but know that you’ll be missing out on a truly fantastic experience. This game, at its heart, is a point-and-click adventure dashed with suspense and taps right into the players psyche.
Was that a shadow of a person? Why did that light burn out when you grabbed that? Was that footsteps off in the other room? Why is that thunder so ominous while the eerie music plays? Gone Home is a game that is all about atmosphere, with the house and the weather proving to be two of the main characters of the game. There is a troubled history in this house and there are a lot of secrets, which just cycles through your mind and makes the game even more tense.
No, the game won’t make you jump out of your chair with scares and it won’t force you to craft a weapon and kill anything, but not all games need to revolve around killing and skill. Gone Home is a game that is about story and atmosphere, with all of the text within the game doing a bulk of the storytelling. Depending on how fast you read and digest text and short stories, this game can be shorter or longer than other people’s playthroughs, but that doesn’t matter, as this is your journey and these are your discoveries.
Gone Home isn’t the most beautiful game in the world, the setting won’t take your breathe away like Dear Esther did at times, and those of us with powerhouse machines won’t be in awe of the graphics or anything, but it is an incredibly enjoyable experience, punctuated by the fantastic soundtrack and sharp writing. Gone Home is a truly great experience that is well worth the money and will leave you with some pretty strong emotional connections by the end of this brief glimpse into this family’s life leading up to Katie’s return home. If someone were to ask me how to describe this game, the only answer that I could come up with would be a sublime journey through the mundanity of one family’s life. It reminds us of the human connections that we forge and how families can help or hurt each other and leave some scars that the world should never see.
I can’t recommend this game enough.It can be acquired from The Fullbright Company or on Steam.