I feel I must punctuate the beginning of this review with a stern warning that continuing beyond this first paragraph may rob you of an incredible experience. Thus is the nature of Gone Home, by The Fullbright Company. It is the expectations you go in with against the actuality of what happens that elevate this work beyond gaming and into the realm of art. If you feel my plea that you must play this game is not enough, read on.
Still with me? Very good. Gone Home is a game like few others. It’s an interactive story more than a game. You play as Kate, returned home from a backpacking trip across Europe. You find your home empty and foreign, as while you were traveling your family moved to a large, isolated manor locally known as the “Psycho House.”
As you explore this house, a seeping sense of dread and mystery hangs over you. It is massive and old, creaking and churning under the unceasing barrage of the storm outside. But something wonderful happens as you progress: you begin to find excerpts of your younger sister’s journal, left for you. These tell you a completely separate story from the hauntingly empty house you currently inhabit. As you explore the vast manor, with its hidden passages and dark history, you are simultaneously treated to a shockingly poignant story of a young girl discovering herself. It’s a one-two punch, putting the player on edge with eerie, horror-like aspects which reduce one to an emotional state of sensitivity, then deftly subbing in a very heartwarming, very real story.
You explore the nooks and crannies of the house, learning every detail of your family, from your father’s failed career as a one-hit wonder author, to finding a condom in the bottom drawer of your parent’s wardrobe. The entire family’s history is laid bare in shocking detail and there is almost a sense of voyeurism. I felt more attached to these characters, which I never once encountered on my wanderings, than I do with most in other games that would present me with a dozen hours of character building.
Gone Home is a truly unique experience. Able to be completed in less than five minutes if you know where to go, and lasting around two hours if you really take your time and absorb things, it is a very brief game. However, just as some of the greatest works of literature are short fiction, so too is this an astounding achievement to be remembered. Find a quiet, dark, solitary space, plug in your headphones, and let the game take you in.
Gone Home is available via Steam for $19.99