One of the strengths of the video game medium is how well it can evoke a sense of place; by allowing you to explore and interact with an environment the player is more easily immersed in their surroundings. Gone Home is a game that takes full advantage of this, as it allows the player to explore a single house. Though limited in scope, Gone Home completely excels and manages to make a single home one of the most enthralling and atmospheric game worlds to date. The key to this is pure interactivity, which makes the player a true visitor in the house rather than a mere observer. It’s a fantastic achievement and manages to effortlessly thread a truly personal and emotional narrative around this exploration. It’s an unforgettable experience that will stick with you long after the credits roll, and is above all a master class in what is achievable with this medium.
The game itself puts you in the shoes of Kaitlin Greenbriar, a 21 year old girl returning to America after a trip to Europe. Much like the player, Kaitlin is a stranger in the house. She is returning to her family, but they moved to a new home while she was on her travels. This is a clever decision which effectively puts the player and protagonist on the same level, a useful thing to achieve in a first person game. The game is set in the 90s, before instant communication was impossible to avoid, and Kaitlin has found herself in a situation where she’s returned home without being able to contact her parents. She ran out of money on her trip and was forced to buy a last minute plane ticket on the cheap in order to get home. The result of this is that when Kaitlin arrives at the house there is nobody there and no explanation why. The why is the core of Gone Home’s narrative and while the destination is fulfilling, it is the journey of this story which is so special. The beauty of this game is not in the story it tells but in how it tells it.
The story itself is told entirely through diary entries from your younger sister and each entry feels completely authentic. It’s a personal story that is firmly grounded in reality and real life drama, and the novelty of this kind of story in a game brings a lot to Gone Home. There’s much more to the game’s quality than this though. The narrative isn’t only effective because it’s so different and new, it’s effective because it’s so good. Even if this kind of ground was well trodden in video games, Gone Home would still stand out as something special.
What makes this story work so well is spectacular writing and superb pacing. The diary entries presence ultimately makes complete sense and they are all placed at contextually appropriate moments. The game does a perfect job of allowing for a sense of exploration and discovery, whilst delivering an immaculately paced and scripted adventure. There’s enough to poke at and look at in each room to allow for an amount of freedom, but the game progresses at a set pace. There are never any stumbling blocks in Gone Home, the game opens up to you over time and in a natural fashion. You are never left wondering where to go next, but it also never feels constrictive. This allows the developer ‘The Fullbright Company’ to craft an excellent linear experience that feels satisfyingly open for the player.
On top of this, the writing makes sure the story works throughout and never falters. Each diary entry manages to capture a point in time perfectly, the struggles and joys of teenage life come across perfectly and the way Fullbright has captured this distinct style is very impressive. It would be so easy for the dialogue (all of which is spoken to you by your sister) to come across as inauthentic, but it’s entirely the opposite. The sublime voice work and writing go a long way to sell the narrative, but it is the location which seals the deal. The house itself is the main character in the story, and it is through exploring this mansion that a wider tale is told.
One of the great successes of Gone Home is that it feeds you a spectacular narrative, but leaves you with more to work out for yourself. Everything has been placed in this house for a reason, whether it’s to help create a greater sense of time and place or to tell an expanded story. The detail is really impressive and there’s a surprising amount of things to uncover beyond the single narrative. The story itself gives you the tale of your sister, and why she isn’t home, the house tells you so much more. Other characters exist in the main narrative as incidental figures, but it is through interacting and studying your environment that you learn about them. This turns an amazing singular narrative into just one piece of a cohesive whole. Gone Home leaves you with questions, but it gives you enough to work out the answers. It’s a game that promotes analysis as well as pure discussion, and this is to be commended.
Gone Home is one of those games where talking about it too much risks giving too much away. It totally depends on its story, but this isn’t a detraction because storytelling is inherent to every part of the game. The game itself is a superb achievement that truly capitalises on the potential of games as a story telling medium. It takes a well written narrative and elevates it to great heights by telling it in an interactive fashion. It’s a very short game and the price tag is rather high considering this, but don’t let that put you off what is easily one of the best games of the year (if not the generation). Gone Home is something you would show to people to demonstrate that games should be taken seriously, and that the art form that is video games can bring something unique to the table. It’s a true masterpiece that hits all the right notes and hits them perfectly. It might not resonate with everybody, but if this kind of game carries any appeal for you be prepared for something spectacular.