Gone Home throws you into the shoes of Katie Greenbriar as she returns home after a year in Europe. You’re standing on the veranda, sheltered from the storm raging outside, but still separated from the comfort of your home – a position you will metaphorically retain throughout the game. On the front door there is a note. It’s Sam, your sister, informing you that she’s gone and pleading you not to look around for clues as to where she went and thus, of course, your hunt for said clues begins.
The character of Katie is unimportant; she is nothing but a vessel through which the player interacts with the world and learns the stories of the inhabitants of this house. As she has been away for a very long time and communicated seemingly only through a few post cards she is just as clueless as the player so any revelations are just as surprising to her as they are to you.
Gone Home (PC)
Developer: The Fullbright Company
Publisher: The Fullbright Company
Released: August 15, 2013
Gone Home is far from most people’s preconceived notions of games – there are no complex interactive puzzles to solve, no head-shots to pop, no dragons to slay or even turtles to throw fireballs at – it is nothing but a narrative experience. To open a door you will need to find a key stashed away in a cupboard, and surprisingly not on top of a giant tower, to open a safe you will need nothing but a page out of the instruction manual with the default code printed on it, not hack it with your phone or by making blue shiny liquid run through a maze from one side to the other. Nothing is out of place, nothing is too “video-gamey,” any items that you find are there for a logical reason: there is no shotgun ammo inside a bathroom drawer, there are no upgrades inside safes – which brings the immersion to an entirely new level compared to most other games.
As you try to make your way through the unknown house to get to the truth about your sister’s mysterious note and where your parents might be at 1:15 am you will be urged to pick up various objects lying around the house – some pertinent, some not at all. The fact that so many useless things can be picked up really highlights the disparity of the situation. Just how worried is Kate that she’s looking for the answer to her sister’s fate on the bottom of a facial tissue box?
There is no pigeon-holing of the players to get to where the developers want them: there is an ordinary house, some doors are locked, most are open, eventually you’ll find a way to unlock the locked doors, but until then just explore and see where the trusty WASD takes you. The feeling of being lost and desperate for answers is entwined into every development of the story. As you discover more, the list of the unknown grows, your mind begins to run wild with the most dramatic and violent scenarios flooding it, driving you further into the unknown in hope of finding a stable footing and finally being able to understand what really transpired.
There isn’t much going on for Gone Home other than the story. To be fair, that’s like saying that there’s nothing much going on for pizza other than the taste. The story is everything and it is so finely crafted through the astounding voice-work, incredibly real and moving plot and perfectly realized setting that nothing else matters. There is no need for flashy visuals or amazing mechanics because it does not need them; it achieves perfection in its own field by telling a great story without the need for anything extra.
Along with Dear Esther this piece of entertainment destroys the ideological confines of the video game medium. Gone Home allows itself to be a journey through a family’s present house where its past is discovered and future is inferred without the need to comply with clichés and tropes that litter not only the medium of video games, but that of films and literature too, thus managing to be one of the most emotionally touching pieces of fiction through unrelenting realism.