Developer: The Full Bright Company | Publisher: The Full Bright Company | Price: $19.99 | Played On: PC | ESRB: Rating Pending
Shooter games have high-octane action, strategy games are challenging, and dancing games are designed to make you the life of the party. So what does Gone Home, the first project from The Full Bright Company, bring to the table? Described as a “story exploration” game, it’s a journey—one worth experiencing.
In 1995 Katie Greenbriar flies back to the States from a trip abroad to find no one home – at 1 o’clock in the morning–as a (cliché) severe thunderstorm roars outside. There’s a note attached to the door from Katie’s sister Sam, begging her not to try to find her. This of course means you have to find out what’s happened to Katie’s family.
As you reach for the door, you realize it’s locked; this sets in motion the exploration style of the game: areas of the home become available if you play detective thoroughly enough. Once you find a way to enter the home Sam’s voice is overheard, explaining how she wrote journal entries meant for Katie since she wasn’t there when Sam needed to talk to her big sister. And that’s essentially all there is to the mechanics of the game: you point-and-click to open cabinets and read crumbled pieces of paper as Sam’s voice plays every now and then to share details of the year Katie was away.
And for Gone Home, that’s all that’s needed.
The game hinges on human curiosity; how engrossing the game is depends on how far you’re willing to go to learn about the Greenbriar family. There’s something eerily wrong about sifting through Katie’s parents’ personal effects, but it’s necessary to solve the mystery of the empty Greenbriar home.
Details that would be otherwise benign, such as what the mother’s former college roommate has to say on marriage or that Katie’s father loves the X-Files, actually brings you closer to a family only seen in photographs. And why should you care about what happened to Sam and her parents? That’s a question you’re likely to ask yourself throughout your entire session. And it’s because it’s a puzzle—a puzzle involving human beings not unlike our neighbors and ourselves.
Consequently, that’s what makes Gone Home so gripping. Though a seemingly normal American home to an observer, searching every nook and cranny reveals deep secrets unnoticeable to the outside world.
Gone Home also helps illustrate what type of detective you’d be given the opportunity to roam the needlessly large homes of strangers. If you’re a considerate citizen, you might shut off the lights when you leave a room and make sure every item you pick up is returned to its proper place. If you’re me, you make sure every light in the house is on and mugs lay where they fall because I don’t have time to be tidy. And unconsciously how you choose to investigate becomes another aspect to the gameplay.
Alas, I disliked the constant sense of dread that filled the house, with the storm bellowing outside and ghost-haunting clues scattered throughout. I constantly feared Slender man was going to greet me every time I entered a new room, but that was part of the ambience—just like Sam’s voice plays an integral part to that. Throughout my investigation, her gentle narration full of teenage wonder and turmoil kept me intrigued. Newcomer voice actress Sarah Grayson did an excellent job as the only family member with a voice (aside from Katie’s voicemail at the beginning), breathing life into the other characters by proxy.
The misdirection and different paths the story presents are brilliant. It’s difficult to see where the story is heading until the very end of the one-and-a-half-hour excursion. Piecing together all the discovered elements and developing explanations to fill the remaining holes is the overall theme in Gone Home, as well as its reward.
If you enjoyed The Stanley Parable or Dear Ester, or you’re a fan of narrative-driven games, you owe it to yourself to play Gone Home. For $20 it can seem quite steep so you have to be willing to pardon the linear gameplay and short length in favor of the journey. But the few tears I shed confirm that I feel the experience is worth it.
+ An amazing, detailed narrative
+ Linear gameplay supports story structure
+ Great voiceover narration
9 / 10