Giant Bomb Review

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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 Krabonq

Once again Patrick shows off just how much of a hipster is. Am I happy he's not in QLs anymore.

This is BARELY a game. It's just a story.

This is NOT even a good fucking story.

For a more elaborate explanation on why journalists that give this thing a high score are shills, read the video comment of the uploader of this Gone home speedrun:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9qlm8olmn0

Posted by skyebaron

Its a well told story and the house was well designed but I just found the game incredibly boring. Then again, for me, story never trumps gameplay. I could describe gone home as a high res adventure game that my local Walgreens sold in the 90's with a short story audio book included.

Posted by lifesabeachh

I can't believe this got a 5/5.

Edited by Nettacki

Its a well told story and the house was well designed but I just found the game incredibly boring. Then again, for me, story never trumps gameplay. I could describe gone home as a high res adventure game that my local Walgreens sold in the 90's with a short story audio book included.

I dunno. A typical adventure game sold in that place at that time at least had some puzzles to solve. Gone Home has no puzzles to speak of.

Posted by MormonWarrior

How is the story "touching?" I found it frustrating and troubling. Basically everyone in her family is screwed up except for Katie, as far as we know. Nahh, it's just about dumb teens making wildly irresponsible, naive decisions. At least the atmosphere and attention to detail were cool, but there's no mention in any reviews I've read of how terrible the game runs on less than great computers. It ran like gaaaarbage on my family's one-year-old PC.

Posted by OMGmyFACE

Now when people ask "why don't you like Patrick Klepek's articles or videos," you have something to cite. He's either a SJW or jumped on the bandwagon so as not to offend anyone (I'm sure everyone will love you for pretending to love them) and has contributed to the almost-conspiracy of Gone Home's giant metascore. If we're stating facts: a game that isn't a game, an entertainment product devoid of any variety or fun, with a story that isn't exceptionally "well written" for an asking price that's regarded by the majority as "too much" should not get a single 5/5 review. On principle alone, if your job is to review video games and give them arbitrary number scores, you shouldn't dock a point because you were surprised by its subject matter in a bad way or give it more just because you were surprised by its subject matter in a good way. That's not journalism.

Posted by Bam_Boozilled

The story was decent and I was kind of sad at the end. I was actually expecting to find the remnants of a double suicide up in the dark room attic, glad it didn't go that way. Though it is definitely not a legendary experience in my opinion like all the reviews make it out to be.

Someone else posted this :

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p9qlm8olmn0

in the comments and the description really nails what I think of the game down to the letter. Maybe not so harsh on the story side.

Posted by Bam_Boozilled

@breadfan said:

said:

The cynic in me can't help but believe that the raving reviews are a result of gaming journalists' attempts to distance themselves from the misogny & homophobia attributed (often unfairly) to the gaming community rather than a true measure of the quality of the story itself.

I've seen similar posts on other reviews of Gone Home and I didn't get that vibe at all playing the game. The story felt totally organic. It's just taking on some more mature subject matter than games usually delve into.

What exactly is mature subject matter and what is immature subject matter?

I mean we could say most games delve into the subject of war or killing or death, and I would not call these immature or any less mature than a lesbian love story/runaway story/ find my sexuality story or what have you. If anything it is the way the game handles the subject matter. Gone Home handles it in an interesting way, but nothing I've never really seen before, and after awhile the high res objects you can manipulate lose their awe factor.

If it weren't for the focus on homosexuality I doubt this game would have been as universally praised as it was. My theory is very similar to @balki_bartokomous . No one wants to look close minded or immature so they all avoid putting the game in a negative light. That would draw a lot of attention in a sea of super positive reviews. LGBT and feminism are burgeoning into games, and if you handle instances like gone home the wrong way, it can stir up a lot of shit.

Gone Home was interesting, and it was different. But nothing so exceptional (especially game play wise) that it should get such intense praise.

Edited by lilburtonboy7489

Haven't logged into GB for 2 years. Logged in to say that this is an excellent review...and I would imagine it was a difficult review to write. What makes this game so incredible is really hard to explain. For people complaining about the price for such a short game, I think there are plenty of people willing to pay that for this experience. I would not pay $1 for a Call of Duty game because it's not worth it to me since I don't like that type of game. That doesn't mean I can objectively say "This game is not worth it". This has been one of the most memorable gaming experiences in probably 5 years for me.

Posted by Lenny

I finally played through this yesterday, I agree entirely with the 5 star rating. Superb.

Posted by TournamentOfHate

So I don't think I've ever done this before. I just finished playing the game and then wanted to come here to read Patrick's review(I purposely hadn't read it up until now because I already decided I'd play it). That last paragraph basically sums up why I think this game is awesome. I expected it to be good, but it definitely lived up to all the praise it's been getting.

That "holy shit" moment Patrick mentions, I was frozen for about 30 seconds when that happened.

Posted by Evan_Buchholz

@skareo: You sound like you actually played it and you support your argument with specific examples to prove why you think so. Great review. 14050/10