Review: Gone Home!

25th June 2014

Released late last year, Gone Home has received mixed reviews – and I can kind of see why. This isn’t your typical Steam game – and with a team known for their work on the BioShock series and Minerva’s Den perhaps gamers were expecting… well, a game.

The fact is that Gone Home is far from being a game in the traditional sense. There are no objectives beyond uncovering and piecing together the overall story, and there are no monsters, puzzles, or combat. With only two hours of “gameplay” this is less a game, and more a wonderful new way to tell a story. Where we might joke about the amount of narrative vs game in something like the Metal Gear Solid series – Gone Home unashamedly focuses on narrative and very little else.

The basic premise is that you are Kaitlin, arriving home from a year away in Europe, and find the house that your family moved into whilst you were away completely empty. You must explore, find secret rooms, and interact with the items you find there to advance the story.

As a game mechanic this means that for the most part the game is rather linear, and by the end of a play-through you’ve pretty much seen everything. There isn’t a great deal of replay available here, and whilst the story is quite the emotional journey I fear that it may not be gripping enough to make us want to listen to and read it again. The developers have since released a “Commentary Mode” which may add a small amount of replayability to the game.

Where the game shines, however, is it’s character development, and even it’s narrative structure. Not to mention the beautiful depiction of a mid-90’s family home – including some great nods to classic TV such as The X-Files, and a lot of all-girl punk and grunge bands too, notably for me Veruca Salt. Right down to details like ticket stubs to see Pulp Fiction in a local theatre.

The characters become increasingly vivid the more you explore the house and interact despite never actually meeting them. A hard working mother who may or may not be having an affair with a colleague, the father who has went from failed sci-fi writer, to electronics review writer… and your little sister Sam. The latter is the core of the story. And importantly, this is a story of a teen girl finding herself, falling in love, and a very real depiction of how it feels to ‘come out’ to parents and peers.

Whilst this is a beautifully written tale in that regard, it doesn’t quite have the happy outcome that we’d hope for – but to me this feels more real of the time, and the fact that these things still happen to LGBT* kids means that it’s great to see it shown in media like this.

I, for one, hope that the developers at The Fullbright Company produce further instalments, as I’d love to see how Kaitlin reacts to all of this. And how the other characters lives and attitudes evolve following the events in Gone Home.

Whilst I can see why the typical gamer may dislike the lack of combat/puzzles – I think that this is a game that everyone should play through at least once. It’s an emotional journey, and representation of queer characters is always a plus in my books (but then as a queer comic creator I’m a little biased).

The only thing I can see as a real reason for people to shy away from purchasing it, is the price tag. At £14.99 it may seem a little steep for a 2 hour game, that can apparently be speed-ran in 2 minutes but I don’t understand why you’d do that for a story-heavy game. But let’s face it, we’re already paying £40 or more for franchise games which are pretty much their previous instalments with new graphics/maps developed on much larger budgets.

If you’re really concerned about price though – the Steam Summer Sale is currently on and this game is 75% off until 30th June and £3.74 isn’t bad for a game that may even make you cry. (And it’s even available on Mac/Linux too!)

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