Review: Gone Home
Gone Home is a game about answering questions. From the moment you arrive on the doorstep of the game's creepy mansion setting, you're simply left to inspect your surroundings. You open cupboards. You rifle through drawers. You read letters, carelessly left lying around by the mansion's (presumably) former inhabitants. You piece together a story. But is that story worth listening to?
Developed by The Fullbright Company, a studio consisting of former 2K employees whose only credited work thus far was the BioShock 2 DLC Minerva's Den, Gone Home places you in the shoes of Kaitlin Greenbriar, who returns home following a spot of prolonged globe-trotting to find it abandoned, with no clues regarding her families' mysterious absence other than a note left by her sister, Samantha, telling her not to "dig around" looking for answers. So, naturally, you dig around looking for answers.
You'll discover these answers by inspecting your environment, though the amount of searching you do is entirely left to your own discretion. If, like me, you want to inspect every nook and cranny to piece together as much of the game's narrative as possible, then that's certainly an option, as is breezing through room after room examining the bare minimum, though that is arguably not the right way to play it.
Finding certain items such as letters will reveal more about the Greenbriar family: their religious leanings, their relationships with one another and, crucially, their secrets. Every so often you'll be treated to a reading from Samantha's journal, narrated by Samantha herself.. These offer you glimpses into her troubled adolescence, and are voiced and written so wonderfully that Samantha soon becomes a character you connect with, despite you not being able to see her. Her tales of teenage rebellion are honest and uncontrived, two qualities which you rarely find in video game dialogue.
You explore the mansion in first-person which, given your creepy surroundings, instantly brings to mind games such as Amnesia and Slender. Thunder claps loudly outside, lights flicker on and off and the floorboards creak. The uneasiness I felt playing Gone Home was similar to the uneasiness I felt as a child venturing into a darkened room – that horrible fear of the unknown. You're not quite sure whether or not you're alone in the house, and The Fullbright Company play their cards so close to their chest that you're left guessing what, if anything, is watching you throughout the entire game.
The game's 1995 setting allows for some nice era-specific additions, such as cassette tapes left lying around by Samantha that contain various original Riot Grrrl anthems. While Sam isn't depicted as the typical sociopathic, Daria-esque 90s outsider that she so easily could have been, the slew of zines and quirky scribblings of hers you find make her an interesting character to learn more about. That the developers managed to keep her this way for the game's 2-3 hour runtime is a testament to the strength of their writing.
Gone Home has stuck with me far longer than I had anticipated. It's a beautiful, emotional story, and one that is told expertly. I have been careful in this review to not detail its events any more than was required, because to do so would be to spoil one of the most moving experiences I've ever had with a game. If you own a PC and Gone Home's $17.99 asking price, I implore you to buy it immediately.
Paul Tamburro is the Associate Editor for CraveOnline's Gaming channel. You can follow him on Twitter @PaulTamburro.
We purchased a copy of Gone Home on Steam for $17.99.