Indie Review: Gone Home
Gone Home is a first person interactive story from indie developers The Fullbright Company. It aims to be a mature narrative centered around a young woman who returns to her home after travelling abroad only to find her whole family gone on vacation. Does it succeed with its narrative?
- Worth The Time?Yes, if you're looking for a good story.
- Things LovedThe story is very interesting and succeeds at being a compelling mystery, the game handles mature content extremely well and leaves you with quite a bit to think about, its themes are bold yet highly relatable, the voice acting and writing is superb, the graphics are excellent, the music is amazing.
- Things HatedThe lack of "gameplay" and interactivity may put off gamers, you may feel disconnected from the protagonist.
- RecommendationIf you're adventurous with your gaming tastes or looking for something to stimulate you intellectually rather than challenge your ability, Gone Home is an excellent option. It's not for the typical gamer or those who just want to kick back, enjoy and not think too much, but for those who value narrative or want something to speak to them, it's a game you must experience.
- Name: Gone Home
- Genre: Adventure, Interactive Story
- Players: 1
- Multiplayer: N/A
- Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
- Developer: The Fullbright Company
- Publisher: The Fullbright Company, Steam
- Price: $19.99 (approximately R200)
- Reviewed On: PC
It’s time to confess something a little silly. When I first saw Gone Home, glanced over a couple of screenshots, got a bit of the buzz and decided to make my purchase, I thought it was a horror game. Perhaps this is because of the story premise, or maybe I just play far too many indie horror games these days. What Gone Home actually is, is both a mystery and an emotional journey. A more accurate description of it as a game is that it’s an interactive narrative and, apart from some minor cases of puzzle solving here and there, it focuses entirely on exploration and discovery of the story. Gone Home is about experiencing a narrative, not playing it. The cynics, purists or elitists among us may argue that it shouldn’t be classified as a game, but to me that’s irrelevant in determining what it does for our industry, and what it does as an art form. After all, art is primarily about expression, isn’t it?
But I’m getting a bit wayward. Taking a few steps back, Gone Home is about a young woman named Kaitlin Greenbriar who returns home in 1995 after travelling abroad, only to find that her entirely family is gone away on vacation, a little fact she discovers in the house. You as the player will guide Kaitlin from a first person perspective, exploring the house and discovering where her parents have gone, what happened to her sister and what her family has done for the past year or so. You’ll do this by searching the house and rooms, finding notes and diary entries left behind by Katie’s sister, and investigating her family’s secrets. It’s a simple, but ultimately very effective method of presenting the story to the player, and is part of what makes the game so engrossing to experience.
While the exploration part is entirely up to you, there is a bit of a linear progression to it in the sense that the main pieces of information do have an order. However, there is plenty to discover on the side, and if you really want to find everything you may find yourself spending a fair number of hours roaming around the house making sure you’ve left no stone unturned. If you’re too interested in the story for detours and find yourself regretting your lack of backstory by the end, you don’t have to fear as you can resume playing once you’re done to go find out the rest. It’s important to understand that there’s a great deal of story here, but not all of it is completely required, although it does add more value.
This is the part where reviewing this game gets a little tricky for me. I really do not want to spoil anything of this narrative, as it’s a story you should experience without any preconceptions or important facts revealed, but this limits what I can say a fair deal. So I’ll try my best to give you a full overview of this experience without spoiling anything. The first and most important thing I’ll say is that Gone Home is bold and ambitious, and handles mature content in an extremely admirable and respectable way. Despite its narrative ambition, its themes and story are both something that I feel many out there today can relate to on a deeply personal level. When playing and experiencing this story, you may find that you know someone in the situation Kaitlin’s family is in, or you, yourself, may actually be or have been in the situation. Gone Home is a game that tries to speak to you. Does it succeed? Absolutely.
But why is that? Why does Gone Home succeed, as a video game, in dealing with such mature and serious content when many doubt the gaming industry’s ability to deal with such content? Well, naturally the writing is superb, as anything less wouldn’t cut it for this kind of tale. But for me the fundamental reason that Gone Home is so good is because it does not try to twist its content to its own ends, or force you into any one view or perspective of its story. It doesn’t shove anything down your throat or try to force change your perceptions about what you’ll experience. What it does is give you this experience, introduce you to these characters and their real-world problems and speak to you on an emotional level without celebrating or diminishing the content it is dealing with. It focuses on emotion, and tries to reach you on an empathetic level. And it works. At the end of this story, I did not judge the characters. I simply reflected. I understood all of their roles. I understood what had happened. And I understood why the characters did what they did, and what they were going through. It was real, believable and honest. That’s exactly what Gone Home’s narrative is. Honest expression.
Many would say that for something to be meaningful, it should make a statement. It should say something. Gone Home absolutely does. Its message is neither highly positive or negative, but something that we as people in today’s society can be empathetic about, can understand and can relate to. With a touch of hope, sadness and maybe even pain if you can relate to this content more closely than I can, as I don’t have a great deal of personal experience with it. Nevertheless, it didn’t prove to be a prerequisite, because this game spoke to me. And I heard its message. It resonated with me. That’s when you know that art has succeeded in expressing itself. When it gets you to think, to feel something, to react, to ponder or to reflect. When it matters. There will be those who say that Gone Home is boring, is not a game or, in the extreme, is pretentious, but, entitled to an opinion or not, that’s the wrong attitude to have. This is what the game industry needs more of. Maturity, purity, and expression. Something to be proud of that could change the perception of those who don’t understand gaming and think of it as “those shooter things the kids play”, and help make gaming an important art form that people can turn to when they need something to speak to them, and not just to be escapism.
The only issue I took with Gone Home’s narrative, as brilliant as it was, is that I felt a bit disconnected from Katie, the protagonist. Maybe it was the writers’ intentions to have you focused completely on her sister and family, but by the end I didn’t feel as though I understood her as much as I did the rest of them. She still felt like a stranger to me. But maybe that’s the point. She’s been abroad all this time while the family was going through everything, that she is a stranger to these events. I don’t know what the developers intended, but I do know that I would have liked to know her stake in it a little more, and get to know more about her as a person. Nevertheless, it’s not a deal breaker. The one main point to mention though is that the lack of “gameplay” and interaction in Gone Home may deter some gamers, so I will reiterate what I said at the start of this review when I said that this is a game you experience more than you play. If you accept that, and you want to try this for its narrative value, it will be great.
Gone Home, for an indie game, looks phenominal. It’s rich with detail, high quality textures and plenty of environmental variety. So much care and attention went into designing this house and everything inside it that it’s often deeply impressive. Created on the Unity engine, which is really a marvel for indie developers, it’s a sure deal that Gone Home both looks and performs wonderfully. But as good as they are, the graphics isn’t the star of the audio and visual experience, but rather the amazing music and outstanding voice acting. The music is subtle and touching, the silence is immersive and every word spoken is encapturing. There’s nothing to fault Gone Home for here. It’s amazing quality.
Gone Home is a mark of excellence for narrative in video games, handling mature content extremely well and proving that games can be for absolutely anyone and can be so much more than just escapism or entertainment. It speaks from the heart, and delivers an experience that can be related to on an emotional, personal or even just an intellectual level. It’s not for the typical gamer, but it is an important game in our industry today. It’s what we need more of, and it should be celebrated.