Release Date: August 15, 2013
Platforms: PC, Mac, Linux
A video game, according to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, is “an electronic game in which players control images on a television or computer screen.” Wikipedia dresses up the description with “an electronic game that involves human interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device.”
There are numerous different types of video games out in the world, ranging from racing games where you have to come in first to win, fighting games that expect your opponent to be on the ground by the end of the match, adventure games that need you to save the princess or find an important item to save your fellow brethren in a shelter. Gone Home however isn’t really any of those. In fact there has been a few claiming that Gone Home isn’t even a video game, but those types of comments are few and far between and generally overwhelmed by those saying the contrary. I myself wouldn’t call Gone Home a non-video game and in the same breath I’ll say it isn’t really a video game either. I think the best term to describe Gone Home is that it is an experience.
Gone Home is played entirely in a first-person view, and you’re cast as Kaitlin Greenbriar as she arrives to her family’s home in Portland in the middle of the night from a trip out of country. Its storming outside and the first thing you see is a note from your sister Sam on the door saying that first, she isn’t home, and second, to not dig around trying to find out where you went. And so the mystery and investigation begins.
The controls are typical of FPS games – WASD controls movement, mouse is used to look, with left mouse button to interact and right mouse to zoom in. If you have an object in your hand, you can hold down the right mouse button to move the object about to examine it further. You can also crouch with the CTRL key as well. There’s no need for the ability to run or jump, you explore the house as would a regular human being would. It is in fact that first step towards drawing you into Gone Home by having you behave as such, which adds to the tension and a feeling of excitement that I will explain later.
The graphical design in Gone Home is what I’d call nostalgically wonderful. The year is 1995 and you definitely see evidence of it all: VCRs, tube TVs, cassette tapes around the house (that can actually be played in cassette players), the overall feeling. It’s extremely easy to walk around the house without really poking about too much and say “yep, this is the 90s.”
The textures are crisp and a majority of the time you don’t need to zoom in to read any text that you find around the house. The real experience here in the graphics comes from the lighting and level of interactivity related to it. You can pretty much pick up anything in the house and move it, turn on nearly every light, and open ever drawer, door (if you have the keys), and explore every inch of your surroundings. While you won’t find yourself being able to move lamps to change the lighting or kick around chairs and tables, it doesn’t detract from the gameplay.
Gone Home’s sound is subtle and enjoyable in its richness of quality. There are places in the house to listen to music, with actual differences between what you play in a cassette player to an old record player. There’s no overbearing dramatic soundtrack while you explore, and no sound feels out of place or generic. I wouldn’t be surprised if the house in Gone Home was a real one and everything was recorded on-site.
The whole point of Gone Home is to find clues as to where your sister is, as well as where the heck everyone else is as well. It doesn’t help that when you get inside, not all the lights are on, there’s a storm raging, and you’re not entirely sure what to expect. This is what creates one of the most unique game experiences I’ve had in a long time. As I mentioned before the rate at which you can walk combined with the atmosphere has this incredible sensation of being able to build up dread and tension within you as you explore dark areas or start progressing through the house into new and unlocked rooms. There is a dark part of the basement that you’ll encounter and I was extremely hesitant to walk even near it. That’s the power Gone Home has, it will cause your imagination to run wild as to what is in the darkness, even though it’s a game that has no violence or weapons in it.
Gone Home’s story is played out through notes and papers you find throughout the house. Some of the notes are accompanied by a voiceover by your younger sister, which is done very well to the point that you feel like she really is your younger sister. These voiceovers outline the main narrative, while all the other tidbits you find in the house paint several smaller side plots that are fun to discover.
If there is to be any downsides to Gone Home, it would be its length. This isn’t a triple-A title with twenty-plus hours of gameplay and multiplayer, nor does the challenges of finding clues change. Most experienced players will most likely go through it between 2-3 hours, with a couple more hours if you wish to try and uncover the other side plots.
But that’s not a reason to not play Gone Home. Playing Gone Home is much like reading a book, a good one at that, that you are experiencing as it unfolds around you. The text isn’t all there as you read on, but you know what is going on. When you finish this magical book with magically appearing text, you start to read it again to get the rest of the text in the book. Once you’ve uncovered everything you can, explored every nook and cranny, you get a feeling of accomplishment, but also a feeling that you can’t wait to pick it up again down the road.