Gone Home can be described as a first-person interactive story adventure videogame, and is the first game ever developed by The Fullbright Company.Though released in 2013, the game takes place June 1995 and puts you in control of Kaitlin Greenbriar, a young woman returning home to her mansion in Arbor Hill, Oregon on a stormy night. You are surprised to find the very spacious building void of any inhabitants, which has you venturing deeper and deeper through the hallways and rooms of the house, interacting with objects, reading letters and notes, and listening to accompanying voice tracks triggered as you progress to slowly reveal an unsuspecting story. The game is clearly story-driven, and if you (hopefully) come into it with zero knowledge of what to expect as I had, you’ll find the story rather surprising, but wonderful nonetheless.
I’m trying very hard not to reveal any spoilers because I believe this game would be ruined if you come into it having any knowledge beyond the fact that it takes place in the 90’s, so expect many nostalgic homages to be paid tribute to, and some occasional garage band music that is likely to prompt some memories that I am unfortunately too young to fully appreciate. While I might say that the atmosphere set up by the game is a bit misleading, I wonder whether the decision is intentional: whether it has some symbolic meaning meant to complement the theme of the story, or is simply intended to heighten the surprise you’ll experience realizing its true nature. By that I mean that you start off on the porch of your house with the backdrop of a storm, with some rather dimly lit rooms, making for a creepy atmosphere. You spend the whole beginning part of the game (at least I did) very carefully treading forward, anticipating something to pop up at you, or some psycho hidden in a basement to come running after you, but eventually realize that this isn’t that kind of game. So the one thing I can say for certain, is that if you’re looking for a real horror game, with any sorts of scares, then this game isn’t really for you.
Again, without going into any detail, I’ll try and discuss my thoughts concerning the story of the game. The story is certainly engaging and lures you in to explore the events that have occurred at home after coming back from a year of travelling. You’ll be able to discover new details about your family members, as well as the conflicts and struggles they went through while you were gone. You are painted a vivid picture of your family through various notes and memos which allows you to better appreciate the story as it is presented. Although the story itself may be a bit simple, and arguably not very imaginative, it’s a short, sweet tale that I think is very well done. It might even leave you wanting more, as it had me, but I think as a whole it was quite effective and hit the right spots.
As for the gameplay, you walk around and can interact with pretty much anything in sight in some way. It is a bit frustrating at times since when I say you can interact with anything, it’s really true: you can interact with every plate, every cup, that Christmas duck over there, these cassette tapes over here. Whether it’s worth interacting with everything is up for debate though. As I was playing, I wanted to be absolutely meticulous so I picked up everything, and inspected it thoroughly just in case there was some hidden code written or some writing in blood pointing to some important clue necessary to understanding the true plot, but this is rarely true. It is worth it to read the letters, the postcards and notes and such, and some objects are important to pick up and may have some important text written on it but by all means this is not the case for everything. Needless to say, this slowed me down a lot, and became tedious for me, though only because I had the mindset to pick up every last thing. Now that I tell you that such attentiveness is necessary however, you may rest assured with the knowledge that you don’t have to put time aside inspecting every object, unless you get kicks out of doing that.
There are a few puzzles to solve, but they aren’t too challenging since once again, the developers make it clear that it’s the story that matters. This was fine for me, but I don’t think it would’ve been a bad thing to add more puzzle-type things in a game focused on atmosphere. The setting of the mansion was large enough and I don’t think it would’ve detracted from the story by any means. If anything, the game would become closer to a crime detective sort of story, which wouldn’t necessarily have been a bad thing. It just seemed like the story was set up in such a way to encourage exploration, and while this did pay off in some clever and humorous ways, I feel as though they could have done more with it.
The controls are fluid, the art is great, the physics of it are pretty good and I was, on a whole, quite content with the visuals of the game. The game did its part in bringing you back to the 90s, which is appreciated as you rummage through the various rooms, making it succeed largely in producing the desired effect. It is a pretty, polished effort and a job well done by The Fullbright Company. The major question remaining, however, is whether it’s worth the handsome twenty dollar price tag put on the game in the Steam Store. My answer: no, not at all. What about ten dollars? Maybe, depending on how much you enjoy and appreciate interactive story-heavy games. Also, bear in mind that the game isn’t for everyone. It boasts a solid story and I think it’s worth a play for sure, but not exactly for the current asking price. I got the game for ten dollars and I am a bit on the fence on whether that price is worth it. Personally, I would wait until a Steam Sale when the price is down to 5 dollars as it was during the Steam Christmas Sale (sorry for writing this review so late), which is a suitable price for this pleasant, albeit short experience. The game isn’t very re-playable, as you’re there for the story, once that’s over I don’t know what else you can do, but I assure you it is a very nice game. Play it when you can get it on sale, and enjoy the small polished package that is Gone Home.