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
Edited by Rsvaret

Thanks for this review Patrick. Bought and played through the game in one sitting based on your recommendation. Really enjoyed it.

Posted by jarowdowsky

@fartgod666: It'd need to be sprite based to really compare to what Citizen Kane did ;)

Posted by frankfartmouth

I AM GOING TO PLAY THIS. Really, I am.

Posted by BearPawB

Thanks for the review patrick. Bought it immediately. Loved it. Not sure if i think it was necessarily worth the asking price, given how quickly it is all over. But the experience will stay with me. So I don't have much to complain about.

If you enjoyed gone home/the stanley parable then you will enjoy this game. Story matters people

Edited by Brad

So how does this work, someone sets up a spoiler thread so people who have finished can talk about the game? Sorry, not sure of the spoiler-process on GB?

Yeah, that sounds like a great idea. Just don't forget the spoiler tags. :D

Staff
Posted by GrandHarrier

How long is the game? It seems expensive for what I am guessing is a very short story?

Posted by Turhaya

Fantastically written review Patrick! Really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Sounds like the game exceeds expectations for the "quiet moments" exploration scratch I was hoping it'd itch. I also remember getting weirdly creeped out by the trailer a long time ago and wondering if it was just me. Just really seems to sell being in that space... being home alone.

Posted by Tesla

Steam sales are perfect for games like this. Can't wait to play it for 2 bucks during the Christmas holiday.

Posted by jarowdowsky
Edited by Turhaya

Fantastically written review Patrick! Really enjoyed reading your thoughts. Sounds like the game exceeds expectations for the "quiet moments" exploration scratch I was hoping it'd itch. I also remember getting weirdly creeped out by the trailer a long time ago and wondering if it was just me. Just really seems to sell being in that space... being home alone.

Posted by Ooame

I bought this on steam and i have to say it was absolutely fantastic. As a guy who grew up in the 90s this hit me so hard.

Posted by planetfunksquad

"There are no jump scares in Gone Home,"

Someone didn't pick up the crucifix.

Online
Posted by Red12b

dude, had a smile the whole way through this review, brilliant write up,

gonna check this out

Edited by jackson_stone

Great review Patrick! I'm now really interested in this game.

Edited by SockemJetpack

Thank you Patrick.

I watched the QL of this game before work this morning and read your review on my break. I made up my mind then that I had to experience this game. I balked at the price tag but pressed on nonetheless. I was rapt. I am not usually rapt.

Money well spent. Thank you for not steering me wrong.

Edited by cjack007

I thought the story was pretty solid and appreciate the thought that went into making this game. However, it is extremely short and has little replay value. The price point seems high for what you get.

Edited by cabrit_sans_cor

It really is true that if you create something, a bunch of people will flock to it to tear it down.

Who gets to decide what constitutes a 'game'? I'd say the people who... make them? Criticizing this game for not having enough mechanics, tricks, bells and/or whistles is like saying "it can't be considered a movie because there were no chase scenes/explosions." That's absolutely wrong, and makes no sense.

People seem to be saying that this isn't a game, but simply an interactive story. But isn't that what games are in the first place?

Here's how I see it - for the first time, people are experimenting with this medium. They're trying to escape from conventions that have been a part of this medium since the beginning - action, violence, etc. Everybody wants to say that games are "art" now, but that's bullshit. I've had great experiences with games, but nothing that I would consider "art".

A game doesn't need flashy effects, innovative mechanics, and vice versa to be a game. A game can be whatever the fuck it wants to be. There are people still making text adventures - do you not consider those games either?

Basically, it boils down to this. You may not like this game. Some people will. Why does that have to bother you so goddamn much? If you think a movie looks pretentious and boring, don't watch it. If you think that of a game, then don't play it. If others love it, and want to shout it from the rooftops, then what does that matter to you?

You have your own opinions - why can't you let others have theirs?

Edit - this isn't directed at any one person. This is just my response to an attitude I've seen regarding this game.

Edited by LunaCantabile

So you're saying this game won't leave you indifferent?

Posted by LunaCantabile

So you're saying this game won't leave you indifferent?

Edited by cabrit_sans_cor

It really is true that if you create something, a bunch of people will flock to it to tear it down.

Who gets to decide what constitutes a 'game'? I'd say the people who... make them? Criticizing this game for not having enough mechanics, tricks, bells and/or whistles is like saying "it can't be considered a movie because there were no chase scenes/explosions." That's absolutely wrong, and makes no sense.

People seem to be saying that this isn't a game, but simply an interactive story. But isn't that what games are in the first place?

Here's how I see it - for the first time, people are experimenting with this medium. They're trying to escape from conventions that have been a part of this medium since the beginning - action, violence, etc. Everybody wants to say that games are "art" now, but that's bullshit. I've had great experiences with games, but nothing that I would consider "art".

A game doesn't need flashy effects, innovative mechanics, and vice versa to be a game. A game can be whatever the fuck it wants to be. There are people still making text adventures - do you not consider those games either?

Basically, it boils down to this. You may not like this game. Some people will. Why does that have to bother you so goddamn much? If you think a movie looks pretentious and boring, don't watch it. If you think that of a game, then don't play it. If others love it, and want to shout it from the rooftops, then what does that matter to you?

You have your own opinions - why can't you let others have theirs?

Edited by cabrit_sans_cor

It really is true that if you create something, a bunch of people will flock to it to tear it down.

Who gets to decide what constitutes a 'game'? I'd say the people who... make them? Criticizing this game for not having enough mechanics, tricks, bells and/or whistles is like saying "it can't be considered a movie because there were no chase scenes/explosions." That's absolutely wrong, and makes no sense.

People seem to be saying that this isn't a game, but simply an interactive story. But isn't that what games are in the first place?

Here's how I see it - for the first time, people are experimenting with this medium. They're trying to escape from conventions that have been a part of this medium since the beginning - action, violence, etc. Everybody wants to say that games are "art" now, but that's bullshit. I've had great experiences with games, but nothing that I would consider "art".

A game doesn't need flashy effects, innovative mechanics, and vice versa to be a game. A game can be whatever the fuck it wants to be. There are people still making text adventures - do you not consider those games either?

Basically, it boils down to this. You may not like this game. Some people will. Why does that have to bother you so goddamn much? If you think a movie looks pretentious and boring, don't watch it. If you think that of a game, then don't play it. If others love it, and want to shout it from the rooftops, then what does that matter to you?

You have your own opinions - why can't you let others have theirs?

Posted by zacharai

@video_game_king: Maybe you thought you'd gone to RPS, but we don't have a pun thread in this house, yo.

Posted by TheSolution

This was a wonderfully written review that inspired me to purchase the game. Having finished it, I am glad I did.

Edited by geirr

Not reading any of this as I'm currently taking a little break from playing. The game is too good to put down but it's 3:30 in the morning and I have shit to do in a few hours so I have to stop playing. Ugh.

Posted by buckybit

My question is: "Would you pay 20 bucks for a movie-length video game experience?".

I like Dear Esther. I like Proteus. I would not bought both for even 15 not to say 20 USD each.

Posted by RetroVirus

Gone Home is a special and fulfilling experience, at least to me. Exploring spaces is one of my favorite things about the medium, and being able to do that with a very heartfelt and subtle narrative that is generated by your exploration is satisfying. I don't think it's going to "blow you away", but it executes on a specific idea and story so well that I think it deserves the praise it has been receiving. Excellent review, @patrickklepek.

Edited by zacharai

Finished it. I've read some reviews that mentioned that certain things seemed to be too much out in the open for a real family's house (receipts or letters that ought to be private), and that's true, but it's a minor quibble in the context of the game overall. There are some also funny moments, such as hovering over your dad's porn stash giving the on-screen text of 'gosh, Dad'.

I'm not sure if I knew the main plotline before the game started, from a preview on another site, or if I just grokked it really quickly, but the revelation about the main relative wasn't a big deal to me. But it's how they handled it - made me wish I could be that age again, and relive those awesome, life-defining experiences.

I'm glad I played it. It was $20 for almost three hours of meticulous searching, so I won't disagree with issues of price vs. time, but it was worth it for me. Everyone's price calculus changes over time, and this was a definite buy from me.

Also, the spoilers in my post are very minor, but really, you should play this without anyone explaining anything.

Edited by Blarghman

A good read, Patrick. In the end, I was somewhat frustrated by the game; it does a lot right, but I just didn't feel the same way you did about the story. I thought it was interesting enough, but not particularly memorable. I enjoyed exploring around the house, the creepy ambiance of being alone was good, and the putting together the various stories from small pieces worked well, but it never clicked as a whole with me the way it seems to have with a lot of others.

I thought it was fine, and don't regret buying it, but I feel like it could have been a spectacular game, and in the end was just ok, at least for me.

Edited by tourgen

I want more games like this. Exploring an environment and interacting with detailed items to construct a chain of events is pretty cool and fun. Kind of amateur investigator work where the Primary Path doesn't glow with sparklies and isn't marked on your mini-map.

Unfortunately for me there is nothing about this particular game's setting or characters that interests me at all. I really couldn't care less. I look forward to other people picking up the ball and building something interesting with the ideas though.

Edited by Sweetz

I don't point this out as any attempt to "steal this game's thunder" - but lets not forget that 20 years ago we also had a game about exploring an abandoned environment full of little details and discovering small story elements in service of piecing together a larger narrative...it was called Myst.

I know the last decade has been largely dominated by games about killing dudes, but it's a disservice to those old games to forget they existed. In many ways Gone Home is the logical evolution of detail heavy 90s first person adventure games - only with more focus on narrative than puzzles. I will certainly admit that many of those old adventure games were harmed by their need to be "games", with obfuscated or overly difficult puzzles that got in the way of their narrative.

As an interesting exercise I would suggest to any game journos who are now in their 30s and enjoying Gone Home is to think back on what their opinion of Myst was when they were under 15.

Posted by ike7779

Just finished. I enjoyed Dear Esther but it pales in comparison to Gone Home. Way superior ambient music, soundtrack, art, story, and player involvement. Totally worth 5 stars.

Posted by XCEagle

@zacharai: Also funny when you find your sister's porn stash and it says "Gosh ,Sam" and you realize both your sister and dad "read" Gentleman magazine.

Posted by JasonR86

@ike7779 said:

Just finished. I enjoyed Dear Esther but it pales in comparison to Gone Home. Way superior ambient music, soundtrack, art, story, and player involvement. Totally worth 5 stars.

You and I wouldn't get along. I think they are both practically the same game in terms of quality. Dear Esther spoke more to me personally so I like it more but I can see why someone would say the opposite. But to say that one is clearly superior to the other seems nuts to me. In fact, I would say that Dear Esther has the edge because it is priced much more appropriately. $20 for this game is nuts too. I mean I like it. But come on y'all.

Edited by theanticitizen

@fobwashed: I kinda would have preferred that ending :/ but I like super super dark stories so that's a personal thing and not to bring down the quality of the game or it's choice where to take the story ha ha

Edited by Fobwashed

@theanticitizen: I liked the way the game ended because it didn't scare the shit out of me =P

Edited by zacharai

@xceagle: Oh shit, I didn't catch that! Where was that stash? I'll go through the basement again, that's my guess.

Edited by Sweetz

@jasonr86 said:

@ike7779 said:

Just finished. I enjoyed Dear Esther but it pales in comparison to Gone Home. Way superior ambient music, soundtrack, art, story, and player involvement. Totally worth 5 stars.

You and I wouldn't get along. I think they are both practically the same game in terms of quality. Dear Esther spoke more to me personally so I like it more but I can see why someone would say the opposite. But to say that one is clearly superior to the other seems nuts to me. In fact, I would say that Dear Esther has the edge because it is priced much more appropriately. $20 for this game is nuts too. I mean I like it. But come on y'all.

This game has a concrete narrative. If you're looking for what I'd call "interactive fiction", it's a better game. Dear Esther throws you a bunch of random, self-indulgent story segments at you and expects you to build your own narrative out of what is largely nonsense. I swear that game is an experiment in pareidolia; how many people can you fool into believing something is intelligent and meaningful if you just spew some flowery diction at them.

Posted by geirr

@cadwr said:

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

@patrickklepek said:

@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.

This is one of those games where I feel a score is redundant. It's a really compelling and touching experience but I don't think the 'mainstream gamer' will appreciate it, which is fine. I'd personally give it a 5/5 but I can also see how many, many people will just shrug it off as something slow and mundane.

I played through half the game, tried to get some sleep, couldn't, and got back up to finish it. Somehow I feel richer, even if I'm $20usd poorer. It's also a great nostalgia trip for the teens of the 90s. There's so many details in this game from that era that made me feel like a shaken can of soda.

Posted by JasonR86

@sweetz said:

@jasonr86 said:

@ike7779 said:

Just finished. I enjoyed Dear Esther but it pales in comparison to Gone Home. Way superior ambient music, soundtrack, art, story, and player involvement. Totally worth 5 stars.

You and I wouldn't get along. I think they are both practically the same game in terms of quality. Dear Esther spoke more to me personally so I like it more but I can see why someone would say the opposite. But to say that one is clearly superior to the other seems nuts to me. In fact, I would say that Dear Esther has the edge because it is priced much more appropriately. $20 for this game is nuts too. I mean I like it. But come on y'all.

This game has a concrete narrative. If you're looking for what I'd call "interactive fiction", it's a better game. Dear Esther throws you a bunch of random, self-indulgent story segments at you and expects you to build your own narrative out of what is largely nonsense. I swear that game is an experiment in pareidolia; how many people can you fool into believing something is intelligent and meaningful if you just spew some flowery diction at them.

Huh. I mean I appreciate that type of story-telling and you don't seem to. But don't drag it down to being something it isn't because you don't like it dude.

Posted by KoolAid

Holy shit. I just finished it. It absolutely deserves five stars. MASTERFUL storytelling.

I know some people are going to blow this game off and think its lame. I feel pretty confident saying Gone Home is a game that will give back as much as you put into it.

Posted by GalacticGravy

This game was absolutely beautiful.

Edited by bgdiner

Really great review.

Posted by Rongaryen

I am someone who generally dislikes, and in some cases hates, Adventure games but I thought this game was definitely worth the 5 stars it got. I enjoyed this $17 game that people are complaining is too expensive way more than the $20 Blu-ray movie I bought a couple days ago.

Edited by eskimo

Just finished playing.

I gotta go find my parents and give them a hug. Thanks Patrick, I wouldn't have heard about this if it wasn't for you and GB.

<3

Edited by SpunkyHePanda

Played through it in one sitting. Hell of a game. Yes, guys, you can figure out where the story is going pretty quickly, but it's the way it's presented that really sells it and (at least for me) makes it feel much more real than it would have in a series of cutscenes.

Posted by BaconGames

It's hard to ask for a non-spoiler answer about the game's story but here goes: the fact that the house is empty. Is that contextualized at all or is it an arbitrary thing for the search-through-the-house story discovery mechanic?

As an example, I think it would fit if say, the house was unrelated to the person walking through and the family is arbitrarily gone and it becomes a fancy and compelling object hunting and story discovery game. If the game puts you in the shoes of a character from that family, does it make sense why the house is empty by the end? It's the one thing I realized has been bothering me about this game having not played it. Again, don't want a spoilery answer but still curious.