by Christopher Coke
reviewed on PC
In the perennial argument of games as an art form, Gone Home may well become a mascot. Hidden within its mysterious exterior lies an experience which transcends expectation. Indeed, at times The Fullbright Company seems to tease those expectations purely to subvert them. Gone Home is a game aimed at the heart that travels upon memory. Its simple exploratory premise and expert composition – here is your home, go discover it – combine to create an episode true to its namesake: you have gone home, now you must uncover the mystery of its emptiness.
A Journey Back in Time
To describe the game's three-hour narrative is to spoil it, so better to trace the edges. The year is 1995 and your family has just moved into a new home. VHS and cassette tapes are the current hotness, alongside Super Nintendo and Street Fighter. Your name, according to your passport, is Katie Greenbriar: ROTC graduate, big sister, and one recently returned from a European vacation where you saw the world. In many ways, Katie is the average college student come back to her roots.
Except when she arrives no one is there to greet her. The game opens with you standing on the front porch, dripping from the storm raging outside, and the door is locked. A note from your sister is pinned to the outside begging you not to dig around after her and that they would see each other again some day. After you find a way inside, the answering machine plays an ominous set of messages and the lights flicker. Boxes lay haphazardly around as if someone left in a sudden hurry, a sentiment, too, supported by many lights being left on, and televisions left on in their empty rooms. It feels as if something bad happened here; as if something drove them all away.
Re-discovering Home, Family
Thus begins your journey into Gone Home, the first-person, and first ever, game from The Fullbright Company, an indie team of four industry veterans out to accomplish something different. They succeed astonishingly well and the mechanics of gameplay are comfortably familiar. As you walk through the house, nearly everything that seems interactable is. You can open doors, drawers, and cupboards, pick up objects and return them, and explore the nooks and crannies of the house with simple clicks of the left-mouse button. Right-clicking, or shift, zooms in and allows you to more closely examine your subjects of interest. The most important objects are added to your inventory for later examination but doing so is rarely necessary.
As you go from room to room, picking up every item you see, audio journals begin to play from Katie's sister, Samantha. She talks about her past, her experiences at her new school, and her steps forward into her new life. Sam is your guide through the house, each entry only telling you enough to keep you searching for the next, and each also reminiscent of experiences and emotions you're likely to have felt yourself. The sense of identification and the ability to care about this character you have yet to actually see is profound and a testament to the stellar voice acting.
Excellent story, discovery, voice acting, presentation