It’s a tough game to review. Hell, it’s hard to describe it as a “game” at all. It lacks any sort of points system; there is no health bar; there are no puzzles. To recommend it to anyone as a game feels disingenuous.
But make no bones about it: Gone Home is absolutely worth your time.
Developed and published by indie studio, The Fullbright Company, Gone Home is more an interactive narrative than traditional video game. Players assume the role of Katie, who has just come home from a year-long trip abroad. The date is June 7, 1995; the night dark, stormy–foreboding. There’s a note on the front door of her family’s new house, addressed to her from her younger sister Sam: “We’ll see each other again someday. Don’t worry. I love you.”
Inside, the house is a mess. Closets are open; books are strewn about; televisions and radios are left on. Thunder rumbles intermittently. Several messages are left on the answering machine–the first is you letting your parents know when you’ll be in, but then there are a series of them from an unknown girl, each more distraught, more fearful, than the last.
As Katie, players explore the house. There are several points where Katie will find the code to a lock and need to enter it, but with those few exceptions, the game lacks any barrier to progression save only if you get lost.
I hesitate to divulge any plot points, because the game works so wonderfully when you don’t know a single thing. It plays with genre; there were several times I laughed out loud despite the creepy atmosphere. It fleshes out Katie’s family, and we get to find out about the issues that what an outwardly happy group may face.
I found myself absorbed in the world of Gone Home rather quickly. Exploring the house, Katie finds notes from Sam explaining what had been going on in her life during the year Katie was abroad, all fully-voiced. Not only that, but the house itself feels lived-in–there are notes from your mother telling Sam to close doors behind her and turn off lights to save energy, and soon after I found myself feeling guilty for all the things I’d left running up until that point. Bathrooms have tissues, toothpaste, toiletries; Sam’s room has pens and pencils and papers and music and video games, all with their own designs, able to be inspected. There are tapes throughout the house, all filled with music from the 90s, lending the game a sense of authenticity.
It’s tough to describe much more without truly ruining the experience. The game presents one of the most realistic and well-rounded depiction of LGBT characters that I’ve come across in gaming, and while Gone Home deserves discourse on it–and other sites certainly have that covered–to do so within a spoiler-free review does the game an absolute disservice. Suffice it to say that I found myself in tears at several points, especially as the game reached its conclusion.
If you’re interested in story and characterization, Gone Home is one of the best examples in gaming I’ve seen.
-Music really feels like the 90s
-Sam’s voice acting brings more to the game than if it’d been silent
-Realistic and nuanced depiction of LGBT characters
-Hard to call a “game” compared to, say, Bioshock or even Escape from Monkey Island
-Subplots feel less fleshed-out than the main storyline
Play it if: you want an interactive narrative that doesn’t hold your hand but doesn’t lose traction, if you’re looking for a heartfelt depiction of LGBT characters in a gaming landscape devoid of many, or if you want something with a creepy atmosphere that isn’t over-the-top. In fact, unless you want something outright “gamey,” play it anyway.
Gone Home was finished within the course of three hours, purchased through Steam for PC.