Gone Home will take you back to the 90s.
|Platform Win, Mac, Linux
|Publisher The Fullbright Company
|Developer The Fullbright Company
|Release Date Aug 15, 2013
Gone Home is a master class on how to tell a personal, affecting story in a video game.
Framed as a mystery, and requiring the player to care about its characters' personal lives, Gone Home takes some big risks in a medium that famously struggles with this kind of nuanced story. It succeeds, thanks to superb writing and a smart, story-driven approach to architecture and level design.
Gone Home stars Katie Greenbriar, a young woman visiting her family's new home in 1995 after a year of European traveling. Upon arriving at the mansion — on a dark and stormy night, of course — she finds it deserted. It's your job to piece together clues in the environment and figure out where the hell everyone is.
Throughout, Katie's younger sister, Samantha, narrates a series of journal entries, pulling you through the main story, while other threads are revealed through exploring the house and sifting through notes, objects, photos and so on. This is Katie's first time in the house — adding to the sense of mystery and unease that permeates Gone Home.
"It's your job to piece together clues and figure out where the hell everyone is"
"Gone Home proves that you don't need to kill people to keep things interesting"
Gameplay is first-person exploration — Katie wanders through the various rooms, inspecting objects and letters, collecting useful bits of information. There's no combat to distract you, and only a couple of simple puzzles to suss out. But that doesn't mean you can go on autopilot and let Gone Home happen to you. Solving the mysteries of the Greenbriar family requires careful observation and at least a rudimentary sense of how to put the pieces together. It doesn't hurt to be the kind of person who obsessively opened drawers in, say, a BioShock game.
That there is no combat — or other mechanics aside from exploration and environmental manipulation — proves that you don't need to kill hordes of people to keep things interesting. Quite the opposite, in this case.
Gone Home depends on well-drawn characters and the urgency lent by an intriguing mystery, which motivate the player to keep going. But Gone Home made me want to both savor every moment and sprint forth to the next clue. Every piece of information imparted new details and invited me further into the Greenbriars' world, from the books lying about that show off Dad's past career as a pulp novelist, to hints in Samantha's schoolwork of her wicked sense of humor.
Gone Home is emotionally honest and beautifully, subtly written. The core storyline feels real, like the product of an intense, lived experience, and represents the first time I've personally related to video game characters.
Gone Home resonated deeply for me, partially because the particulars of the story are eerily familiar. I was surprised by the story, and even more surprised by my reaction. I've mowed down thousands of bad guys and aliens and evil henchmen in my 25-plus-year gaming career. And I've enjoyed emotional experiences and fallen for a number of memorable characters in that time. But I never expected to see myself — or such a strong reflection of myself and my own life — in a video game.
I never expected to see myself in a video game
But it wasn't just the details that caught me — it was the tone. The story speaks to universal experiences: the secrets that we keep when we're young, fear of alienation and desire for acceptance, complicated relationships with family. I felt like I was reliving some of my own long-ago memories, with all the jumbled feelings associated with them. That emotional heft is a huge credit to the writing and performances in Gone Home.
The house pulls you through the narrative. It's intelligently gated, allowing you to explore rooms in any order you like, but requiring you to find necessary clues to unlock new areas. It's all very natural — you need to figure out how to open the basement door, for example, or find out how to get into Samantha's locker in her room. This structure fits the world and serves to guide you down the narrative path with every successful combination, code or key.
Dream of the '90s
Everything about Gone Home — from the soda cans lying around the kitchen to the VHS tapes in the living room — positively drips with 1990s nostalgia. This is most evident in Samantha's whole-hearted appropriation of riot grrrl culture from the time, which speaks volumes about her personality.
There are punk audio cassettes lying all about the house, begging to be played on the various tape decks, and zines, posters and girl-punk art that is so '90s it almost hurts. It's fun, funny, possibly a little embarrassing (to those who lived and breathed this stuff at the time) and perfectly captured in Gone Home's world.
Gone Home is a quiet triumph in storytelling
Gone Home proves that a game focused on story and exploration, starring a decidedly non-traditional cast of characters, can be utterly thrilling. With excellent writing and environments that made me want to explore every nook and cranny, Gone Home simply, effectively drew me in. After completing the game, I sat in spellbound, smiling silence for nearly an hour, and that's perhaps the greatest praise I can lay upon a game.
Gone Home was reviewed using code provided by The Fullbright Company. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.About Polygon's Reviews