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 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.

Online
Posted by theanticitizen

@fobwashed: lol I wanted to be scared! They kind of were pitching it as a horror game, even giving you the option to have lights turn on automatically if

You're scared of the dark lol I was really disappointed that it wasn't what I expected it to be. Not to say it wasn't a great game but I personally felt deflated for that reason

Edited by SpunkyHePanda

@bacongames said:

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.

Yes, it's explained.

Posted by Bizen247

Like the one guy said, it was a little ham-fisted and anyone who's consumed a variety of books and movies could predict the whole main story with the sister after about two journal entries, but it was all entertaining enough since you don't see games like this too often.

Edited by fishmicmuffin
Edited by spykereightsix

Masterful story-telling, for sure, and great atmosphere heightened by my own imagination, rather than anything on the screen. I still wish the gameplay was a bit more involved. I would have appreciated some light puzzle-solving mechanics. Nevertheless, definitely worth a playthrough and a fine example of how powerful this medium can be.

Edited by Dan_CiTi

Not about to go beyond the first area at 2 AM because there's too much potential allegory that I don't fuck with at this time of night, but I'm loving the game so far. Not about to read the review, but I love the personality and little audio diaries, even if they are obvious what they're alluding too (i.e. the relationships the sister has with her old male friend and her newer female friend are pretty generic if not relatable so far.) Also I love how you can play the tapes and records! It's a great touch. Also how the pens can roll underneath papers and stuff is cool.

Edited by BaconGames

@spunkyhepanda: Which I guess the only dissonant thing, which is small and unavoidable and not really to be held against the game, is why the player character upon immediately entering an empty home of her family doesn't freak out and call people, run around, and is generally erratic.

So I guess the next logical step, and something I wish more games would experiment with, is story consonant moments of the character acting on their own whether that's the character talking on their own more/frequently or actually moving and doing things.

Online
Posted by XCEagle
Edited by TimesHero

@dan_citi: This is the BEST time to play through it. The game starts off at 1:15 am, so it only makes sense!

Edited by ITSSEXYTIME

@bizen247: It depends how wrapped up you get in it, to be honest. Either way it's a great example of both subtle story telling (items and clues in the environment) and well-paced explicit story telling through the journals. The only downside is there wasn't really much "game" to it in terms of puzzles or having to piece things together to figure out locker combinations. Perhaps that would have taken away from the pacing though.

Posted by Rabidlamb

@patrickklepek Slight Correction. The end game credits list Sarah Grayson as the voice actor of Sam.

Posted by Chrystolis
@koolaid said:

@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?

I'm not sure why someone would recommend that. Emotion is much harder to express via text than it is via spoken word. The voice overs quite literally bring the journal entries to life, and I don't feel the story would have near the same oomph without them.

Posted by BNB82

This is the best game I've played this year. I enjoyed every bit of it.

Posted by zFUBARz

Really enjoyed my time with the game, it was tense as hell, and even though well before the end I was pretty sure I wouldn't be surprised they left juuuust enough doubt that I thought maybe I could be and it kept me going through the whole game in one sitting.

What's the "Holy Shit" moment @patrickklepekwas talking about in the review though?

Posted by BD_Mr_Bubbles

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

Edited by Bumpton

@sweetz: Maybe I just didn't give Myst enough of a chance, but to me, Gone Home is a far better experience. Yes, Myst did have the slowly unwinding story, but it was presented through/between a bunch convoluted, horribly designed (imo) puzzles that greatly took away from any narrative.

I don't mean to call you specifically, but you're not the first person I've seen make the Myst comparison; and I just don't think it's fair. The voice acting and random details give this game so much more character and personality, let alone story depth.

Anyway, just my two cents; I respect your opinion.

Online
Edited by Bumpton

Also, round of applause for the review, @patrickklepek. Completed the game earlier, and I really cannot imagine a better spoiler-free version of a review. I think you did a damn fine job of capturing its essence without giving anything away.

Online
Posted by Kazona

I can't decide whether it was Patrick's enthralling style of writing or the review itself but either way I am sold on this game. Now if only I had the money to actually buy it...

Posted by dvorak

I would pay $100 or more for any experience this powerful regardless of what it was, or what form it came in.

Edited by Vao

Just finished it and I will admit at the end one of the first thoughts was the price.

That being said, I felt it was still entertaining. It's a subject matter that you rarely see in video games, and probley should be now days.

the other nice thing i thought of when i finished was it's refreshing to have a game that doesn't end with death or supernatural forces destroying the world.

also, oculus rift would be interesting in these type of games.

Posted by MrNood1e

I just finished Gone Home and I'm mixed on it. I loved the storytelling mechanics, but I just didn't enjoy the story all that much. That being said, I would still recommend that anyone play Gone Home because it tells a story that can only be experienced in a video game.

Edited by golddeathmonkey

If this game is as good as you say it is Patrick then I can't wait to have my mind blown

Posted by MEATBALL

Excellent review.

Posted by Razputin

Wonderful review, Patrick. I have to check this game out .

Edited by primalmaster

I just finished playing it, and I have to say I'm amazed at how they made me care for a character (Sam) without ever really seeing her. Without the amazing voice acting it would not have been nearly as emotional a story as it was.

Posted by Littleg

Folks saying that this looks like a typical indie darling game and of course Patrick would give it 5 stars probably haven't grasped the GB editorial style. Reviews here don't rank individual elements of a game (graphics/sound/gameplay/smell/whatever) out of 100 and then give you a composite score. It's a 5-star system with the name of the author at the top of the review, and the individuals that write those reviews are presented to us in a wide enough variety of ways so that you get to know their tastes and can understand what it means when, say, Jeff gives Forza Horizon 5 out of 5. I love Forza but knew to be cautious about that game because I've learned what Jeff likes from his racing games and the things he was praising in that review were the exact opposite of the things I want from Forza. Same applies here.

Also, it's odd to criticise the game for not containing enough, or innovative enough, mechanics. It's hyperbolic to say 'people are finally experimenting with the medium' and that this is entirely new - it's not, it's a first person adventure game done particularly well. However, if you say the game doesn't have enough gameplay mechanics like combat, you might as well say it's not a game because at no point do you kill a mushroom by jumping on its head.

I'm not making my point clearly, but I've seen comments that this is both uninventive and staggeringly inventive just in these comments and I'm confused.

Finally, this review was just a really good read, I think I might becoming a Patrick fan. Either his writing's getting better, or I just didn't get his style in the first place...probably the latter.

Edited by FelixCulpa

Loved my time with the game. Nice review Patrick!

Edited by FMinus

Considering the game is short as hell (2-3 hours of what others have said), it's not worth the money they're asking for. For 20 EUR I get games which give me a lot more hours of fun, not necessary the same kind of fun, but fun non the less.

Doesn't mean, that it's a bad game, the pricing is just completely wrong in my eyes looking at how similar indie games are priced way lower and with AAA games from the past years going for 2 EUR on Steam, this one is going to have hard time at that price point, and rightfully so.

Posted by PipeAndSlippers

Hmm not my kind of game it turns out, i definitely paid $20 to figure that out though and thats kind of a game in of itself

Edited by TMThomsen

I'm a fan of the high-resolution image genre.

Edited by Lemonator

I went and bought this without reading the full review for fear of spoilers (spoiler warning for the rest of my comment). Overall, I think for at least the first quarter I was expecting jump scares and was somewhat pleasantly surprised to be relieved of my fear. It's disappointing not being a teen of the 90's and missing out on nostalgia hits. This left me with only the story line to pull me along, which turned fairly predictable, I found myself looking on the map for the hidden areas. "Oh there's the basement key, and the other to the other locked room and the other..." Like Patrick said definitely a shift towards the subtle, but as you look at every, single, clue, it's pretty goddamned obvious. Possibly a better experience could be had not being so obsessive over details when walking through, but then again you miss some of the sub plots of the father, and the mother. I suspect it will score highly with most reviewers due to the detail, atmosphere and different story. For me however it really doesn't excite me enough to agree that this makes it a great game.

Edited by Keen_12

Just finished, gone home hits close to home...

Posted by Dmoh

@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.

When I first saw the score I immediately thought that Patrick was the one who reviewed the game. I was not disappointed.

Posted by TylerDurden4321

I think never before this year I tied video game reviews to just ONE person... maybe that was even correct as mostly scores are still discussed among editors, but... man... I don't know... I kinda doubt this score is what most people would have given this game.
It's probably just not transparent enought how the scores come to be. Are scores absolutely personal or is the reviewer reflecting how representative his opinion is for the average reader of the site the game is reviewed for and then trying to weigh in some objectivism into his score? Does price matter? Does the length/price/fun matter?! I mean I probably would have given Metro Last Light a 4/5 too and Hotline Miami a straight 5/5, which is price/fun-wise more or less correct for me, but if somebody asked me "I can only buy either Hotline Miami or Metro Last Light, what should I get" I'd say for most gamers Metro Last Light would be the right decision, even though it's not fair comparison because of the price.

What I want to say: At the moment I have no idea what this 5-star thing means. Just from reading Patrick's review I'd get the impression REALLY good, but not "one of the best 5 games this year"-good which a 5-star rating comes down to in some years.

Posted by GrantHeaslip

@cabrit_sans_cor said:

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

[...]

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.

This similarly isn't directed at you in particular, but it's much easier to take an attitude like this when it's in defense of something you like. A few days ago, I checked in on the Final Fantasy XIII-2 Quick Look, and the comment section was packed with people aggressively shitting on the game and its creators with the most facile potshots imaginable. This is not a problem unique to this type of game, and the tearing down here is respectful compared to what you'll find directed at other games on this site.

Posted by DocGroove

Great review Patrick. Definitely gonna get this game.

Edited by CheetoVicks

There was certainly a jump-scare for me, although I'm not sure if it was scripted to occur the way I experienced it (I'm very curious if other people encountered this moment, but I don't want to spoil it). That moment did put me on edge for the rest of the game, but like others have been saying, I was so absorbed in the story the house was trying to tell that I couldn't stop playing. It is a brilliant, moving game.

Posted by zFUBARz

@tylerdurden4321: If you don't think giantbomb has enough transparency then you should probably avoid every single other videogame website out there, hell any review site at all. GB is by far the most open and honest with it's userbase, sure there's a barrier to entry of having to learn what each guy likes, but that only helps to improve the usefulness of the site.

I can probably guess pretty accurately at what each of the guys would have given the game now, having played through it. Of course Jeff would probably give it a 3-4 (more likely a 4) He's in a different place in his life, and has lived a very different life from Pattrick, but knowing what either of them would give it, and reading the review should be more than enough to know what the game is like. What more do you need?

Hell Patrick even responds to the comments a hell of alot more than the other guys probably because he knows his reviews are more specific and might need some replies.

Posted by Parsnip

It's a bit too expensive for what it is.

Edited by Nettacki

Sounds like another Dear Esther, only it's twice the price and may or may not have better, less cryptic writing. I'll wait until it reaches the next Humble Indie Bundle.

Edited by Atwa

I just finished and honestly, I can't help but feel that Patrick reviewing it didn't take into consideration the price for what you get. I hate to be that guy but really, 20 bucks for a 2 hour experience? If I got a free review copy I would have showered it with love, but putting out 20 bucks for it and just being done with no incentive whatsoever to go back after 2 hours just sours the entire thing for me. I did enjoy my time but I bought Spelunky this week to and already put 16 hours in it with much more to be sure, for 6 dollars less.

I really hate to write this as I have always been a fighter for games not solely being represented in price to time as the only measure of worth but damn. Dear Esther was to me just as good as Gone Home, much better in the audio/visual department and that is less than half the price. I just can't see what makes Gone Home so special as to warrant the high price, its nice but anyone asking me for my opinion I will fully recommend waiting for the first heavy sale on Steam.

Edited by Nettacki

@atwa: To me, Dear Esther was also a rather dull experience with barely any gameplay other than "walk, look and listen to some guy talk." Unlike actual adventure games like Myst, Broken Sword, and The Longest Journey, it has no real puzzles, little-to-no interactivity, and is painfully slow and linear in ways that even point and click adventure games tend not to be. I don't think that's worth the hype at all, yet I was also the sort of guy who loved Flower by Thatgamecompany. So really, it's the execution of the experience that makes it good, not some good narrative ideas barely bolstered by near-zero gameplay.

Gone Home seems like the same sort of experience as Dear Esther, only twice the price, similar length, and a bit more interactivity with the environment, which seems to make it a little better than Dear Esther but not by much, especially at that price. Therefore, I feel like it's worth a spot in a Humble Indie Bundle, so I wouldn't spend that much for a short experience, which is exactly what I did when I got Dear Esther as part of a bundle.

Edited by Atwa

@nettacki said:

@atwa: To me, Dear Esther was also a rather dull experience with barely any gameplay other than "walk, look and listen to some guy talk." I don't think that's worth the hype at all, yet I was also the sort of guy who loved Flower by Thatgamecompany. So really, it's the execution of the experience that makes it good, not some good narrative ideas barely bolstered by near-zero gameplay.

Gone Home seems like the same sort of experience as Dear Esther, only twice the price, similar length, and a bit more interactivity with the environment, which seems to make it a little better than Dear Esther but not by much, especially at that price. Therefore, I feel like it's worth a spot in a Humble Indie Bundle, so I wouldn't spend that much for a short experience, which is exactly what I did when I got Dear Esther as part of a bundle.

Eh, I personally think the absolutely stunning visuals of Dear Esther are much more effective than being able to pick up all the cups and pencils laying around in the house. If its interactivity you want you play neither of Dear Esther or Gone Home. They are both essentially the same game in how they play, the storytelling is almost identical. Its more how its triggered that is different. In Dear Esther you walk into a new area, in Gone Home you click on an object.

Posted by SKaREO

Bad gameplay. Bad graphics. 2 hours long. 10/10