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.
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.
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.
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.