Giant Bomb Review

300 Comments

Gone Home Review

5
  • PC

This house has a story to tell, and players patient enough to listen will be rewarded with a touching story that won't soon leave you.

Have you ever walked by an empty house, and thought about going inside? A house is just a pile of bricks until someone lives inside, and then it becomes a home. Houses have stories to tell, so long as we’re willing to listen. Gone Home, the debut game from The Fullbright Company, is about one very specific house with one very specific story, and it’s asking you to listen closely.

Lights turn off and on, drawers open and shut--Gone Home's house is full of unbelievable details of the mundane variety.

It’s difficult to talk about Gone Home without saying more than should be said for anyone already sold on it. Do know that Gone Home has lived up to sky-high expectations for the next project from the creative team that delivered the exceptional Minerva's Den add-on for BioShock 2. For anyone that’s curious to know more about what makes Gone Home work so darn well, keep on reading.

Gone Home is set in 1995, and opens with the arrival of Kaitlin Greenbriar. That’s you. Returning from a whirlwind trip through Europe in the dead of night, Kaitlin approaches the front steps of her house during the height of a crackling thunderstorm, greeted by a hastily hand-written note from her younger sister, Sam. The note instructs Kaitlin that she’s gone and not to worry, which, of course, is every reason to worry. What happened here? Gone Home is played from a first-person-perspective, and there is no combat. This is a game about exploration, though one not without its share of tension. But you will never pick up a gun, and your primary means of interacting with the world is opening doors, shuffling papers, and closely examining nooks and crannies of your family's house. If you think you can touch it and interact with it, chances are The Fullbright Company will give you the option to.

Though Kaitlin’s family lives in this house, everything is unfamiliar. There’s a map that fills in as you progress through the house, appropriately labeled as it becomes clear what each room’s function is. The Fullbright Company has meticulous hidden letters, books, notes, magazines, manuscripts, inscriptions, cassette tapes, labeled recordings of X-Files episodes, and countless other objects throughout the house. Hidden is the wrong word, though. If someone was tasked with combing through your home and building a narrative from what was inside, it might feel like some of your stuff was hidden, too. Instead, this place feels incredibly natural. It looks...like a home. It’s messy, there are boxes everywhere, and Kaitlin’s mom was probably upset about the lack of help. There are no objects fluttering with gold dazzles to signify their importance. It is absolutely possible to miss key bits of information, but if you never knew they existed, how important were they? The story you tell in your head is only as real as the the information in front of you. Do missing pieces matter, then?

By god, though, is it fun to look at the pieces. They are everywhere, and each colored with immaculate detail. Fans of the high-resolution image genre will fall over themselves looking through the meticulously detailed pieces of history The Fullbright Company has constructed. The few times where images aren't detailed enough to read the tiniest bits of text are disappointing, but only because nearly every other spot in the house has been given such close attention. Heck, there are even physics associated with some of the objects. Cassette tape holders open, flip around, and reveal secret messages to those clever enough to manipulate them in the right way. And for those who are worried about causing a mess, the game even includes the ability to place things exactly as they were. It's the kind of touch that speaks volumes about the game's design values.

There is a path through the game, but how long you spend on that path is mostly up to you. There is very little preventing the player from barreling through the main storyline, though you’ll have to slow down to discover triggers that signal how to access locked parts of the house. These bits are deliberately easy to find, and are often closely connected to a series of voice overs by Sam, talking as though she is right next to you. (Sam is voiced by Portland voice actor Sarah Grayson, and she does excellent work here.) If anything, what’s difficult is convincing yourself to move to the next room. Patience is rewarded in Gone Home, as patience will help you discover the answers to all of your questions. Everything you want to know can be found within the house, though the game will not connect the dots for you. There is no plot summary, and material is sometimes presented out of order. This makes exploring the house, even after the story ends, continually satisfying.

Without spoiling, this all makes Gone Home sounds much more mysterious than it actually is. Still, it’s impossible to explore the house without cringing as a door creaks opens, or you start walking into the basement. Thunder and lightning strike without notice, making their appearance all the more startling, but it’s not timed to the flickering of lights or an eerie noise down the hall. There are no jump scares in Gone Home, and there are no ghosts hiding in a closet. But all the same, Gone Home feels exceedingly creepy, and the game thoughtfully plays with the differences between its dramatic presentation and the actions actually playing out on the screen. I mean, when you’re alone at home and it’s time to turn off the lights, it’s easy to tell yourself there’s nothing following you around the house, but once that idea pops into your head, it’s hard to let go.

Not everything in Gone Home is there for a reason. Much of it is there to color the world, and provide a sense of time and place.

The experience of playing Gone Home becomes more impressive upon reflection. We’re used to games hitting us over the head with big plot twists and character moments. Games are often the opposite of subtle out of fear the audience will not understand the magnitude of the moment. “We wrote this story, and this big thing happened, you see, and you better get it!.” As the layers are removed from Gone Home’s story, there is no suite of violins to underscore the revelations, and no characters to remind us what we just read or heard. (Chris Remo's soundtrack is, however, hauntingly beautiful.) Gone Home places an impressive amount of faith into the player to discover what The Fullbright Company has laid out before them, and seems willing to lose players who aren’t going to put in the effort to come along. There is, for lack of a better phrase, a “holy shit” moment early on in the game, and it acts as though nothing's happened. The house is still there, you’re still alone, and it's time to move on.

Prepare for a nostalgia hit, too, and not just '90s references. Gone Home will remind you what it’s like to be young, naive, and full of passion. Everything mattered and nothing mattered. No one understands you and no one ever will. The world is both infinite and unfathomably small. As the story unfolds, what’s remarkable is just how unremarkable it really is. Gone Home is an epic story, but its definition of epic is far removed from how we usually talk about scope and drama in games. It’s epic, personal and revelatory to the people involved, and that’s why it’s so special. The moments in my life that I cherish the most--my first love, realizing my brother was my best friend, moving to San Francisco, getting married--would not register against saving the universe from an alien threat, but these are the epic moments in my life. Gone Home grounds itself by reveling in life’s quiet, defining moments, the ones you might write down in a diary, underneath a set of books, only to find years later.

What a crazy kid you were.

Patrick Klepek on Google+
313 Comments
Posted by SeanFoster

I'm racing home after work to play this one.

Posted by ReCkLeSs_X

This sounds amazing. Thanks for the review, Patrick :)

Posted by Pynchon

Rainy day forecast tomorrow, seems an appropriate atmosphere to play through this.

Posted by jimmyfenix

I will be sure to pick this up in the future!

Edited by diefast222

Awesome review!

Posted by cloudnineboya

coolio downloading now.

Posted by limecloud

This is such a novel idea. I can't wait to play it.

Posted by kingjulesxii

Added to the wishlist. Nice to see that this turned out alright.

Edited by fishmicmuffin

Damn I really need to get this. I was surprised it was $20 on steam but it seems like a small price to pay.

Edited by ComradeCrash

I might now have to play this after reading your review. Nice job!

Edited by civid

A shame it's only on PC, hopefully it will get a console release at some point, though I don't know how well the high-res textures would translate.

Edited by Ghost_Cat

Much like that villa demo for the Oculus Rift, I think this game would be amazing if the device was supported. I hope Full Bright makes this happen in the future.

Posted by Video_Game_King

I'm racing home after work to play this one.

Are you saying that you haven't already......gone home?

Online
Posted by msavo

Look forward to getting this on the next Steam sale.

Edited by callumshell1

Sounds like Dear Esther but with gameplay.

Posted by MrMazz

Very excited as long as it dosen't turn into The Ring, that film creeps me the F out.

Posted by djou

This game sold me when they played that Heavens to Betsy song in the trailer. This only confirms it. Chris Remo soundtrack + no combat FPS + X-files homage = full price purchase from me. Looking forward to throwing my Saturday away with this game and a pair of headphones.

Edited by hustlerlt

I really want to play this game, but my laptop sucks way too much to enjoy it in full glory. It'll have to wait until I get a decent PC, because that QL alone really intrigued me.

Edited by masternater27

As somebody who is in those stages you're talking about @patrick but still has the 90s nostalgia (I'm 24) it sounds like this game is aimed straight at me. I'll check it out this week

Posted by Mezmero

I'm just waiting for Giantbomb to go PC only though I guess it's been this way for a while.

Posted by mrfluke

hope they port to ps4/X1 eventually, looks interesting,

but with all the stuff coming out next week and gta in September i probably wont buy this one for a while.

seems this directly caters to the crowd that is imo jaded with today's games and wants something "different". which more power to them that they get another "mature/adult" game,

but this just isn't the one that jumps out to me to buy now.

Edited by JesterPC238

I think I'm going to buy this as I've been looking forward to it. However it sounds like there's nothing "more" to it than what it appears to be. That's kind of disappointing, but also, perhaps, a good thing. I was just hoping that maybe, somewhere inside of it, there were ghosts in the closets or aliens on the roof.

Also, the price tag seems a little high for the length (I've heard 3-5 hours?) but the art is very impressive.

Edited by Nime

@mezmero: That's kind of been happening with the industry as a whole while we wait for new consoles.

Edited by Ministry4390

@mezmero said:

I'm just waiting for Giantbomb to go PC only though I guess it's been this way for a while.

What a ridiculously untrue and childish comment.

Edited by flindip

Let me guess...

The little sister is gay. The whole game is a rumination on having a gay sibling. It came off as a bit heavy handed in the quick look....

Posted by Helios1337

I've been looking forward to this game, but I'm trying not to over-hype myself. Patrick and others are raving about it on twitter, but I recently played Attack Of the Friday Monsters which they also freaked out about and was pretty disappointed with it.

Edited by Kaiserreich

With a quick look and review I still have no idea what this fucking game is or what it's about.

Edited by Kissedtravisc

Was no really interested in the triple a games coming out recently, but Brothers and Gone Home. Yes.

Edited by flindip

@helios1337: Patrick has a tendency to over praise things in the "games with a message" category. Add to the indie nature of the title and Patrick is going to give a 5 star review.

I got no problem with this. These types of games speak more to him personally. Although maybe his objectivity is a little bit questionable as a consumer piece.

Edited by MichaelEM3

Thanks for the review, Patrick. Sounds like the type of game that's right up my alley.

Bought.

Posted by GrumpyBob

Sounds like Dear Esther but with gameplay.

Totally. Came here to say this. I can't help but be intrigued though. Hopefully it's a good story, and not anti-climactic.

Posted by scaramoosh

This game is why I think Bioshock Infinite and The Last of Us were complete crap.

I'm bored of mindless killing like I'm a one man army, if you want me to believe in the story you need to come up with new types of gameplay. There ken levine was saying about people taking the easy way out and not being creative enough, yet he did the same thing with Infinite which was pretty much the same game as Bioshock, even down to the boring combat mechanics and killing constantly.

Posted by steelerzfan101

I totally forgot about this game till I saw the quick look this morning and the review. And now I am about to start playing it! Can't wait...

Posted by Soulstoner

With a quick look and review I still have no idea what this fucking game is or what it's about.

I hope you're joking, or you seriously haven't been paying attention.

Posted by heatDrive88

@flindip said:

@helios1337: Patrick has a tendency to over praise things in the "games with a message" category. Add to the indie nature of the title and Patrick is going to give a 5 star review.

Well that's a dumb thing to say.

Posted by MackDaddicus

@flindip: Couldn't agree more with you. The plot seems so telegraphed in the first five minutes of this game

Posted by BaconGames

I have a feeling I'll appreciate what Gone Home does more than what Gone Home is. To satisfy that question and have an opinion I'm going to play this. I'm totally ready to be pleasantly surprised but I'm also ready to be "that guy" that has a lot of things to say about it that aren't totally positive.

Either way, the object detail and looking through nooks and crannies in a house has me sold as someone who loved Shenmue.

Edited by TheManWithNoPlan

I have to say it was an exceptional experience playing through this. I really didn't expect such a touching story going into this.

Posted by Pudge

@flindip said:

Let me guess...

The little sister is gay. The whole game is a rumination on having a gay sibling. It came off as a bit heavy handed in the quick look....

Oh man, I HOPE it ends up being that ham fisted.

Posted by Fobwashed

@patrickklepek

Spoilers below.

I swear I was super creeped out for like 3/4 of the game until I finally realized that it wasn't going to pull any kind of insane jump scare, paranormal trick on me. I also actually thought that it was going to end in a double suicide in the attic. . . An amazing game. Really well done ending and very nice review.

Edited by KoolAid

@patrickklepek

I heard it suggested that the best way to experience your first playthrough is to disable the dairy voice over. What do you think of this?

Posted by alwaysbebombing

You know I went and bought this after the QL.

Posted by patrickklepek

@flindip said:

@helios1337: Patrick has a tendency to over praise things in the "games with a message" category. Add to the indie nature of the title and Patrick is going to give a 5 star review.

I got no problem with this. These types of games speak more to him personally. Although maybe his objectivity is a little bit questionable as a consumer piece.

I don't consider my reviews "consumer pieces," nor do I aim to be "objective" in my reviews, which is a crazy goal in and of itself.

Staff
Edited by deathfromace

@flindip said:

@helios1337: Patrick has a tendency to over praise things in the "games with a message" category. Add to the indie nature of the title and Patrick is going to give a 5 star review.

I got no problem with this. These types of games speak more to him personally. Although maybe his objectivity is a little bit questionable as a consumer piece.

I don't consider my reviews "consumer pieces," nor do I aim to be "objective" in my reviews, which is a crazy goal in and of itself.

Let alone that is exactly what a review is and why I follow Giantbomb as I feel as I know the personality of the people reviewing the games. If a game speaks to you as a person I expect that to reflect in the review of the game. Much like how if anyone buy Brad were to review Dota it would get a much lower score.

Posted by cadwr

Going to play this as soon as I get home tonight, and then check out the review and quicklook.

@flindip said:

@helios1337: Patrick has a tendency to over praise things in the "games with a message" category. Add to the indie nature of the title and Patrick is going to give a 5 star review.

I got no problem with this. These types of games speak more to him personally. Although maybe his objectivity is a little bit questionable as a consumer piece.

I don't consider my reviews "consumer pieces," nor do I aim to be "objective" in my reviews, which is a crazy goal in and of itself.

This is the kind of thing I love to hear reviewers say. An "objective" review would be completely uninteresting.

Posted by jiggajoe14

My wallet hates you right now Patrick.

Posted by tannerdactyl

Scoops on Scoops!

Posted by Giantstalker

I wonder what Jeff would have given this game. Just a thought.

Posted by flindip
Posted by Ravenlock

I love your writing style, Patrick. Thanks for a great review. Can't wait to play it.