Gone Home Review – A True Adult Game

gone home logo art

Gone Home is fantastic. I’m not sure how to even go about this, however. So much of what the game does is so tied to you expecting one type of game and getting a different game. This author can’t write the review without ruining it for you so, if you were planning on buying Gone Home, go do that. If you don’t want to buy Gone Home, or are just looking for something to read while you have your coffee or something, keep reading.

There are no enemies in this game. There is no combat mechanic of which to speak. There are no zombies, robots, super soldiers, ghosts, demons, or man-pigs. You play as a girl who has returned home from a European vacation to an empty home, and you must explore the house to figure out where everyone is and what’s happened since you’ve been gone.

gone home ss 1

So you search the house and you figure things out. You explore from a first-person perspective. If you left click on an object, you can pick it up. If you hold the right mouse button, you can examine the object.

It sounds simplistic, yet the level of detail in the house and the amount of information about each of your family members you can uncover is amazing. There is a voyeuristic, taboo pleasure to going through a house full of other people’s belongings.

The residence has a sense of place and time, filled with plenty of ’90s nostalgia, and plenty of correspondence in the form of newspaper clippings and notes. All of these give voice to characters you’ll never meet in-game. There are all kinds of things to pick up and look at. Players will keep finding more and more stuff. Setting and exploration are integral to a game, and this game focuses exclusively on heightening that aspect of gameplay.

It’s also nice to play a game that tells its story in such an interactive way. It’s up to you to piece together the narrative. There’s a core story that the game kind of guides you through, but there’s a lot more going on.

gone home ss 2

While it’s true that Gone Home is short in that, if you wanted to and you knew exactly what to do, you could beat it in minutes, that would be entirely missing the point. In the way that some games are essentially interactive action movies or ghost stories, Gone Home is a drama.

The game is about trying to understand people. The object of the game is not to survive, so there is no victory by simply reaching the end. What matters is how much you understand about what’s going on when you get there. The house is full of secret passages and hidden rooms. I missed an entire wing of the house the first time I played. I found the father’s struggle to become a successful novelist particularly interesting, but it’s also entirely possible to miss.

There seems to be the idea that Gone Home is some kind of pretentious indie game. There certainly are a lot of really awful games that have arrived under the pretense of being art. This isn’t that. I’ll admit that it looks like that, but this is the kind of game that all those games wish they were.

gone home ss 3

I love the aesthetic of video games, and I love video games just the way they are right now, but I’m tired of seeing people who make popcorn games talk about how sophisticated and mature they are. If you need ninjas to tell your story, it’s pulp. There’s nothing bad about that, but it’s not literature and it’s not mature or adult. It has been said that a sign of reaching adulthood is no longer caring about reaching adulthood.

Part of the problem is that conventional gameplay demands competition, and that, in turn, lends itself to certain kinds of narratives. Gone Home is an important step to solving that problem, and creating new experiences.

  • Codrin Stavri

    I cant give it a 10.10 because that would mean the formula cant be improved.
    Considering it has so few gameplay elements, some puzzles or some way to influence the story would of been nice.

    Like an ability to enter a secret room where you find more info about your parents that you wouldnt find normaly, would of been great.

    the fact that this is so linear to the point where its an interactive movie, i cant give it a 10.10

  • Ano

    I could give this game… hem… how can I say it… hem… nothing! I was lucky to find a Youtube video finishing the game in less than 9 minutes. It appears that you can unlock all the doors from the menu. Very smart /s… 20$ for this, even 3$ for a Tumblr post, no thanks!

  • Patrick

    It is several months old but it is time for a rebuttal.

    Gone Home is a two to four hour tale of a what could easily be found in a Harlequin novel and executed more brilliantly to explain the fall of a total capitalist society into a den of splicing and ruin. The fact that this came from the team that made the Bioshock 2: Minerva’s Den is even more disappointing, given that its mix of combat and story was well paced and cleaner than the main game itself.

    The gameplay and wandering is a different approach if it made any true sense. Yes, you can explore every nook and cranny of each room but the game forces you to do just that to proceed through a home that would typically be unlocked on the inside, except on Mexican night for a not so subtle reason.

    Worse of all, for all you learn of the tale of the family, there is no payoff. You affect the world as much as a fly would a meeting room. Games have a impact on the little world they make and for twenty dollars you basically get to wander around the aftermath of a major event and that in itself is a disappointment.

    Rating: 1/10. Only purchase if you want a note by note instructional on how not to forge a narrative.

  • Guest

    Zero replayability. An utterly predictable story. Funny how neither of these things was mentioned above.

    “If you need ninjas to tell your story, it’s pulp.”

    Grow the fuck up. Merely having ninjas doesn’t somehow automatically invalidate a game as art. May I introduce you to Mark of the Ninja? It’s got an infinitely superior story to this so-called “game”, its gameplay mechanics are second to none, and it’s highly replayable. Take your avant-garde arthouse slop out behind the shed and put a bullet between its eyes, please.

    Side note: This article right here is a shining example of why numeric rating systems are shit and shouldn’t be used by any self-respecting gaming news site.

  • Brian Hall

    10/10/10 Niche Gamer confirmed for ‘It’s alright, Not convential out of 10’

  • Zanard Bell

    I haven’t played Gone Home, so I have no opinion on it thus far. But somewhere down the line I’ll have it played side-by-side with The Stanley Parable and compare the two.

  • Keirnoth

    Hey John, I know you still read comments, but reading this article kinda feels like I was looking at a different Nichegamer back then.

    This review was made a little more than a year before GG happened, and I know you guys have kinda changed the tone of your articles since then to be more friendly towards an open game market with great games and the gamers who support it.

    You now have a solid viewership frequented by a small but strong userbase. You know what we want in our gaming news, and you know that a lot of the backlash against this game came from people like us who basically argued that this isn’t a game.

    Thinking back to all this, would you still give this a 10/10? My opinion of this game hasn’t changed after watching playthroughs (more like WALK throughs, heh heh!) and to me, unlike you, it felt way too pretentious to me.

    It felt like the game had The Point, and it was trying to beat you over the head with The Point near the end, and another commenter here pretty much broke it down for why I dislike it.

    It didn’t help that a majority of the gaming press came to this “game”‘s defense parroting the same line about how we as gamers are the closeminded ones and that this is a work of art etc. etc.

    What say you John – maybe take a second look? Not gonna hold it against you if you still feel the same. I just like the fact we can directly talk to the article writers in back and forth conversations here too.

  • “Hey John, I know you still read comments”

    Does he? (Hi, John!)

    I’ve been thinking of reviewing this game at some point, but it’ll be a while. I’ve got five reviews waiting on me. Maybe after that.

    WEE, too.

  • John Sabin

    I do go back and check old post. I like to go back and read old things I’ve written because I’m vain. The short answer to would I go back and change the review score to Gone Home in light of Gamer Gate is, no. Nothing about Gamer Gate affects the quality of this game. As to it being, not a game, or a walking simulator or whatever, I think that’s a valid stance you could take. However, I really hate it when I read a review, of let’s say a shmup and reviewer totally disregards what it is in favor of what it isn’t, and they say things like, “You can beat the entire game in an hour. It’s too short.” Of course it’s fucking short, it’s a shmup, if every level was 40 minutes long that would break the game. Tell me how the scoring mechanic works!

    So anyway, Gone Home is a “walking simulator”. You walk around. You look at sht. That’s the game. That’s all there is. I don’t think the people who made Gone Home were trying to make Maniac Mansion or Resident Evil, got bored and decided to spend all their money on hookers and blow, and just made Gone Home instead. I think they knew what they wanted to do, and I feel like they accomplished it. At the time the game was released, I felt like it was the best game of its kind that you could play. That’s what the score represents. It’s not that it was one of the best games ever made or even one of the best games you could play when the review was written. It was the best game in its genre at the time it was written. You could argue that that isn’t how review scores should work or whatever, but the truth is no matter how review scores are supposed to work. The reality is that it’s an arbitrary number slapped at the end of a review because that’s what the marketing departments of big game publishers want you to do and they must be on to something because it’s a fact that people like them and attribute a lot of weight to them.

    I don’t think any game deserves to be judged either way because of things going on with industry politics. That’s why I joined the Niche Gamer staff. I wanted to be part of a place where games would be evaluated based on their merit period. I’m not going to be harder on a game just to make a point or because the wrong people are praising it or have turned the game into some kind of standard or ideal. I don’t think that’s fair to the developer and I don’t think it’s fair to readers. That’s emotional manipulation. It’s what the people who were part of GameJurno Pros were and most definitely still are doing. If Gone Home was released tomorrow, I’d probably still give it a high score. I don’t know if it’s still the best walking simulator available, but it’s still pretty entertaining.

    Of course, I know that’s not what most of the site’s most devoted readers want to hear, and I know that it would damage the site’s credibility in eyes of these same people. This is why I don’t write for the site anymore. By choosing a side and writing with an agenda Brandon was able to build a devoted cult following, which is fine. “Niche Gamer back then” had plenty of time to prove that writing from an attitude of, video games are fucking awesome and we’re just going to ignore politics and anything else we don’t like, is not a viable narrative to operate from. People like politics and they like listening to other people articulate their deeply held views. At the same time once I realized this, my desire to write for the site dissipated completely. I’d sit down to write and watch my cursor blink on the screen for an hour and wish I was doing literally anything else. Gamer Gate and the response to it made me not want to be part of the industry anymore. I don’t even play games anymore, and you just shouldn’t be part of the video game industry if you don’t like playing video games.

  • Nonscpo

    As a Visual Novel fan whose games can get accused of not being games, I can sympathize with fans of Gone Home, as I agree that defining a Video Game can be a tricky thing. However from user commentary and video review, its obvious this game clearly has issues when it comes to its narrative. I feel that giving it a 10/10 seems unwarranted, but at the same time, I agree with the author on not changing the rating over changes in political or demographic differences by the website. Changing the rating after its placement would seem to me as disingenuous, and for anybody wanting to complain about the review, that’s what the comment section is for after all.

  • alterku

    Just saw that this game was on the Nichegamer recommended games curator list on Steam. Holy shit, I thought, this has to be a joke. There’s no WAY NG would recommend something as cancerous as this to fans of genuinely good/niche games. Turns out I was wrong. This and memetale I think have convinced me to drop them as a curator, at least until non-games are no longer suggested as worthwhile purchases from this game website.