If I had told you that you would be spending roughly three hours playing a first person game that featured no combat, a few simple puzzles, and that you would really enjoy it, would you believe me? Well that’s exactly the case with Gone Home, the brand new title developed by The Fullbright Company.
So a little backstory is that it is the year 1995 and you are Katie Greenbriar, a young woman who has just come back from a year abroad in Europe to see her family’s new home. But upon gaining entrance to the house, you discover that the place is deserted and you search the place trying to piece together clues to find where everybody has gone. Sure, you will find some information posted on the fridge or on a pad of paper next to the phone, but that’s just scratching the surface. You’ll need to dig deeper and really look into the nooks and crannies to unveil the secrets that each room holds.
You gain bits and pieces of the story through narrated journal entries written and voiced by your younger sister Samantha. You’ll get some of the story just by exploring the rooms, but even more comes from examining objects and finding the secrets of the house. Gone Home makes you really want to pick up every object in the room to make sure you aren’t missing any pieces of the masterfully written story.
You explore the Greenbriar home which feels oddly familiar. You walk in to a dark room and your instincts tell you to look for the light switch, so just beyond the threshold of the doorway you’ll see a switch to turn on the lights. You’ll happen upon a desk and inside the drawers you will discover papers and documents that uncover important details, in the trash you’ll discover discarded notes, papers, and even report cards to discover the story behind your family members. Everything is exactly where it should be and you’ll find yourself at home. In each room in the house feels “lived in” whether it be Dad’s office, or the music room you really get a feel for the purpose of every area and the role it played.
The music and soundtrack does exactly what good sound does in a game, it makes you feel something. Though the setting of the game is in a giant mansion during a thunder storm and every scary movie I’ve seen tells me to be afraid, I feel calm and confident walking the halls. It’s only when entering rooms or dark hallways that you start to hear ominous sounds and ambient soundtrack. I felt anxious throughout the entirety of my playthrough especially searching through the basement which is generally a spooky place in an unfamiliar house. You discover the angsty teenager Sam has left behind quite a few cassette tapes of punk and rock music seemingly doesn’t fit forsome rooms, but fit perfectly in her poster covered punk rock bedroom.
The fact that there is very little dialogue makes the voice work and writing valuable. Sometimes picking up a seemingly useless item prompts some narration and you soon realize you need to be picking up everything in the house and that’s exactly what I did. The entire house is covered in things from the 90’s from books, to magazines, to VHS tapes and even Super Nintendo games and I’ve touched it all. The house is filled with interesting things that remind you that you’re in the 90’s. I couldn’t help but feel a sense of dread when you discover a hidden compartment with an Ouija board inside, as soon as I got my hands on the board the sound of thunder boomed and I jumped a little. Finding a game that made me legitimately scared about nothing was great. It reminds me of when I tried a Ouija board with a small group of friends when I was younger.
Throughout all of this, you really understand the unfolding story and you can relate to it. The story of the fear of having no friends, relationships with friends and your own family, and being the rebellious teenager with a sick but funny sense of humor are all things that I either experienced, or observed in my lifetime but it’s something that really gets you to appreciate the story being told to you from the Greenbriar household.
Gone Home offers an amazing experience with focus on story and exploration, featuring superb voice work, little puzzles, and incredible detail that strung me along through to the completion of the game in just one sitting. I wanted to find out everything I possible could, I needed to pick up every object possible to inspect, prod, and poke before placing it down. It was like a good book, although you can speed through and get to the end in an hour, the real pleasure comes from truly understanding and absorbing the story. If you own a computer with Windows, OSX, or Linux you must experience this game.