Minor spoilers follow.
On my first playthrough of Gone Home, an exploratory game by The Fullbright Company, I unintentionally skipped the climax of the game. I was too nervous to do anything but run through the attic. There was a note from Kaitlin’s sister I overlooked near the end, completely changing my interpretation of the ending scene. After the credits rolled, I went back to find the item I’d missed and started crying. It wasn’t from hard-hitting sympathy, but from joy that I was wrong about the ending of the game.
On my second playthrough, I discovered a hidden note under a folder in the greenhouse. It revealed something about Kaitlin’s mom that I had not known, and I was taken completely aback by this revelation. This note was hidden; I hadn’t even come close to seeing it while I was playing the game for the first time. This is the beauty of Gone Home; the expressed main storyline is there, but the stories beneath it are more spread out than plant roots.
The year is 1995, you play as Kaitlin. She spent a year overseas and is finally arriving home in the wee hours of the morning from a red eye flight. When you arrive, there is a note on the door from her sister, Sam. The note tells Kaitlin that she has left, and warns Kaitlin not to try and find out what happened to her. You enter the home to find your parents missing as well, so your only option is to explore the various items left in the house to unravel the events that occurred while you were away.
As you explore the house more, you find out that Kaitlin had a crush on another girl at school. What happens from there is terrifying and beautiful. You’ll hear diaries that Kaitlin left to her sister, and you’ll discover letters, notes, manuscripts, and items around the house that clue you in to what happened to everyone else. There is an insane amount of items to discover. With about four hours of playtime logged, I’m still missing a few things.
Although many would disagree with me, I believe Gone Home is a horror game. It plays like one, and it definitely scared me at points. Towards the end of the game, all the evidence pointed towards a certain ending, but the truth of what actually happens had blindsided me. Every character has a lot of backstory, except for one: Kaitlin. She’s just a family member exploring a house, when she had the potential to be really intriguing. For everyone else, Gone Home has writing that is enough to peak your interest but not enough to answer certain questions before you finish the game. It succeeds in its unpredictability and open-ended conflicts.
I pointed out where this can backfire in the opening paragraph. It can be easy to miss significant parts of the story. The game does a good job of guiding you, but sometimes the player can get lost in exploration, and lose their way. I guarantee you won’t find everything on your first playthrough, but you’ll find enough to understand Sam’s storyline. There are certain times where the games will reward the patient; trying to find the keys to the locked doors or an item you’ve missed. The simplicity of exploring an average house gets unusually frustrating, which will only escalate if you have an older system. I was experiencing some heavy lag on a three year old laptop.
I hope you enjoy Gone Home, because it’s a great lesson in gripping storylines that don’t involve bullets. It will become a staple for video games that convey drama and emotion, not action and testosterone. If the narrow vision that the general public has of video games will ever change, this is the game that will do it. The Fullbright Company knows that, and their voice comes through in Gone Home. It’s saying, “We can be so much more. This is how.”
[review pros=”Impeccable storytelling, looks great, easy to control, will stick with you” cons=”Frustrating at times, a little short for the price, runs poorly on older systems” score=86]