Very few PC games out there can invest you so heavily in their plot that you are willing to sit down and after just an hour of playing you jump to the conclusion that you must simply finish this in one sitdown. Gone home is the embodiment of this very idea.
You play the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar and you’ve just returned home from travelling abroad to find that you won’t quite be getting the welcoming party you expected, nobody’s home. But here’s the kicker, as a player the only detail that you are aware of when you start the game is what the date and time of your arrival is, June 7th 1995. Your job is to figure everything out through the millennium old classic gameplay mechanic: Exploration.
And this is where things start to get interesting.
The whole house, with the exception of some locked doors, is open for your investigation. From the cabinets in a bedroom to every closet ever existent, it’s all explorable to your liking. And as you explore you will learn, little by little, what the people that live there are like. Things like self recorded rock cassettes, Kaitlins handwritten postcards and the selection of books strewn about (You have no idea how hard it was to make that list without spoiling EVERYTHING!) really set the pacing and the goal of the game: Understanding the characters that live in the house.
But all in all Gone Home isn’t a very complicated or difficult game to traverse, in fact most of the answers to where you need to go next and what you need to do are staring you straight in the face. If you are looking for a challenge you’re definitely going to be disappointed here as the only real challenge comes from figuring out how to get in some of the locked rooms, which is nothing a little bit of exploration can’t fix. The game does require patience and an interest for a story since this is what it’s all about, and even though the cover art does look a little menacing it’s not in the least scary… Unless you shudder at the idea of cobwebs and rooms that have their light switches flipped off… Which you can flip on…
All of this brings me to the real attractors of the game, the atmosphere. Without spoiling too much, there are events that seemed to have unfolded in the house that caused it to be evacuated suddenly and without even a minimum level of notice, and you find them out in such a disjointed way that your imagination will often run with exaggerated versions of reality. It’s this sense of mystery that creates the sense of absorption the story has. Especially when you find out about one character in particular that truly pulls you in and brings the sense of belonging in the story full circle.
It’s the girl from the narrations that truly tugs at your heart, truly moves the “FEELS-O-METER” if I may more accurately express myself. As you explore the house you’re going to be discovering her story and the struggles that she faces in her daily life. She’s a character that is very easy to approach and relate to considering the day to day problems that we face in our own lives. Very soon you start to create a real sense of caring and continue along the story simply to see if her plight IS heard and she DOES find happiness. By the later stage of the game you become so invested that you feel like part of the story, that you truly are the observer, the girl that just got home to start rummaging through your familys belongings in search for answers.
The house truly does feel like a family lives there. Every room that you go to, every cabinet you inspect and every cupboard that you investigate not only gives you another sense of the characters as individuals and as a unit, but of the time period the game is based on as well. Very few games can bring about a sense of nostalgia simply by it’s setting, but Gone Home pulled it off. You’ll walk into rooms with VHS cassettes lying on the floor, audio cassettes with self made titles written on them, phones that are much too large for our modern liking and TVs that could crush a small man by their sheer size. I haven’t felt this exhilarated whilst looking at the past through a Video Game ever, it was a truly unique experience for both it’s setting and it’s story.
Even though Gone Home is plot driven, it’s still a Video Game, and none of us want to buy something that will end up just sitting up in the digital shelves of our steam accounts. But, surprisingly enough Gone Home does have a slight level of replayability. Much like a good book or a short story, you may feel the desire to go through it once more. You never know what more details you can find.
Stories like this one are the type of stories that require you play them, to experience them to feel their true weight. But further than that, it’s these type of tales that everybody should experience because it is, quite frankly, a unique experience matched by very few games out there.
It may not be on the fancy side of game mechanics, but if you are willing to be captivated by an amazing story and cast of characters, get the game, sit down to play, go grab yourself a bucket of Popcorn and get ready to get those keys buttery, because you’ll be there for a while.
Oh, and a napkin might help.