The game industry is changing, in the past video games were all about great gameplay, in the modern era it is actually quite different. Sure, gameplay is still important, but developments have been made to improve the way we play games and at the forefront of this is the story. Some games try to make thrilling gameplay, then we have others that are about a story and inviting the player into a world of mystery. Personally, I think the story is often more important and can even cancel out the need for general gameplay, and no game has proven this to me more than Gone Home.
Gone Home sees us playing as Kaitlin Greenbrier, after taking time to venture around the world, she returns home on a whim to the mansion her family inherited while she was away. However, upon returning Kaitlin finds that the house is empty with the location of her parents and Sister Sam unknown. Feeling the need to find out what happened, we are tasked with exploring the house and piecing together every part of the many stories shared throughout.
The story provides little prompt for the player to begin exploring, right from the start you have the basic knowledge that you have returned home to a place that is as unfamiliar to your character as the player. All we see as we first arrive is a note from our character’s sister Sam that says that she has gone, we receive no additional information and there is no real push to do anything, quite simply this is the moment where we can stop playing or let our curiosity get the best of us.
As soon as we enter the house, we are left to wonder what is going on, the main foyer is lit, but there appears to be no one home at all, and from here we are set free to wander around the house and piece together the story. This freedom is something I truly like, as the game begins, we are immediately able to explore two different sections, the east wing and upstairs. Yes, you do still come to blockades where certain doors are locked but these are understandable. Each section tells a story, but you are free to uncover anything you want, for me, I picked up every item I could to see what story it had to tell me and sometimes I was disappointed when a three ring binder was just that, but not everything has a story to tell.
The biggest praise I can give Gone Home is just how well the game handles progression. As I said, you are free to explore, all though certain areas remain locked until you have found a key to open the next area. Yet, even if the house wasn’t fully open, this kept me interested. Gone Home offers up the stories in pieces, the first section of the house presents one part, the next continues the story, and then the next pushes some towards their conclusion. By seeing everything, I felt invested in each story as I searched the house trying to uncover the mystery of my character's families’ disappearance while also getting wrapped up in the story of a father's failing dreams, and a mother’s troubled marriage.
I was just as invested in one story as the next, and the game progresses well, giving you the chance to try to find everything and learn a story in chronological order. Yes, at times I admit certain story elements feel out of place and feel like they are put in a section strictly for the sake of progression, but this all adds to the mystery as the story builds and things become more interesting. Despite how unnatural some of the item placements may have been, it still works to help the progression and build a certain amount of family drama, while also developing the mystery.
The stories were always fascinating and I was always interested in what I was going to find, and the payoff is honestly worth it! Through the game I developed theories as to what was happening and I am glad that I was on the right track and might I say that I have never been so moved then by the main element of the story, so much to the point I was brought to tears.
However, it is the historical presence that truly is the defining point to this game, Gone Home brings us back to a better time of 1995 and this gives us multiple avenues for exploration. The story is built from seeing elements that were key to that era, forget people sending messages through a mobile phone, there are letters scattered throughout the house that help to tell the story (and the very idea of Gone Home would not work in a modern setting). Even one of the games major themes that builds throughout the story really works to the setting, the game looks at multiple issues that have been explored and accepted today, but the setting helps make an impact and look at a world that seems so foreign to our own.
In addition, the tone of this game is incredible, the house is often dark as you explore it and you would be forgiven for thinking that this was a horror game, and trust me I thought it was. I was often on edge while playing Gone Home and always felt that something was going to jump out at me and this was not helped by the roaring weather outside from the powerful storm. The creepy house with a missing family and stormy weather put me on edge and made me constantly nervous as I explored, and while I don’t feel the game ever properly has a horror element, the storm provides a great ambient tone to the mystery within the game, and the dark house just adds to the scary almost unpredictable nature of the narrative.
Gone Home is probably the defining game when it comes to slow paced walking adventures, the ambient nature of the setting builds towards the narrative and as you explore, you constantly want to find the next clue and see what the game has in store next. I must say I didn’t expect to love Gone Home as much as I did, but this is easily one of the best games I have ever played, and it has one of the most compelling narratives available in the industry. I could not recommend this game enough and feel everyone needs to experience the thrills of this well told tale, and it doesn’t last long with only two hours running time which is great in itself.