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Gone Home Review: Please Don’t Go
Gone Home is a video game without guns, without any enemies or high scores. It’s a game that puts what video games do best at the forefront: creates immersion through gameplay.
You’re dropped into the first person perspective of Kaitlin Greenbriar, home from her year long trip around Europe. Your family is not there to greet you after entering the house, however. It is empty and dark. Now, you might think, immediate set up for a horror game. And you would be quite wrong as I was. There is no spooky horror here. Though subtle unease? Absolutely.
Core gameplay in Gone Home consists of looking through your home, who would’ve guessed? Looking everywhere for clues as to what has happened here is key and does not get old as you think it might. The beauty of this is that Kaitlin doesn’t know anything because of her year-long absence and neither do you. You each learn together and essentially fuse into the same person: immersion everyone (something many games seem to just go “huh” to).
The reason rummaging through desks, switching on lights, reading notes written by your sister Sam and each of your parents never gets old is that it is so very natural. This would be too boring to work as a movie but as a game, as you meander through the eerily deserted halls trying to find the next piece of information with rain beating down outside the dark windows, it is incredibly gripping.
Credence to the writing as well. The writers have crafted this excellent narrative and vivid painting of your family with little to no talking. It’s not always notes you read. For example there might be a pamphlet for a course Sam might want to attend, a book about making friends, essentially telling you quite a lot with as little effort as possible.
Though I must say to the twitch gamer, do not twitch in Gone Home, do not do it to yourself as you will miss the subtleties and incredible detail Fullbright Studios has put into this gem. You must read each note, not just for your sake, but for the sake of Kaitlin who has just arrived after a long trip and needs to get some rest! There are no other characters in Gone Home yet as you read and discover more the characters begin to form in your head and this is where the game pummels many big budget releases in the face.
There is so much heart here, you can feel the passion put into this game with every ounce. Most games are made by conglomerate corporations with huge beehives of people all programming individual sections of a level at a time and this really shows in the finished product which is usually sterile, dry and completely uninspired.
The main character, or the one who takes center stage the more you explore is your younger sister Sam. What happened with Sam is the big thing that drives you to explore that next room. Because it really is so fascinating, so heartfelt and poignant. One can’t help but ache at the fact you as an older sister had to have been absent during the past year considering all that has taken place.
Occasionally as you pick things up you will get a BioShock-esque voice journal from Sam addressed to Kaitlin, usually adding that extra touch to an already provocative story. The game brings up some surprisingly taboo subject matter I was not expecting and if had not scoured over each section of the house may have missed.
Be prepared though, be prepared for a short game. Well, short for our gaming “standards” considering it only clocks in at two hours. But if it had gone on longer I would have been very upset.
There is no need for a game like Gone Home to be six or nine hours like most other games happen to be for seemingly no reason at all. The way it ends is very satisfying, and leaves much open for you to fill in with imagination which is always appreciated, especially in video games.
In many ways Gone Home is a simple game, but in others it is complex and sprawling, quite funny how this is the case when other games put in hours and hours of expository dialogue and tedious plot devices that achieve nowhere near what this game achieves with the simple use of exploration and natural discovery.
I want to play more games like this, please developers, please take notes on Gone Home and how beautiful our art of gaming still has the potential to be!