The Emperor has no clothes
I am baffled. Absolutely, totally baffled by the critical reception that this game has received. I find it unfathomable that anybody over the age of about 15 could find the story in this game to be deep, complex, or endearing. Gone Home is a short experience that is worth nowhere near the $20 price tag that it carries on Steam. I bought it on sale for 66% off and it wasn't even worth it then. It lasts about two hours, which is about an hour and 45 minutes too long. The game's exploration and level of interactivity are piss poor, if not nonexistent. The much ballyhooed story is a lame bait-and-switch. It starts off as what looks like an intriguing haunted house story. It turns into an emo teenage love story with all the appeal of a sixteen year old's Facebook wall. Seriously -- I have seen more compelling stories on MTV.
Gone Home makes a pretty good first impression. The first twenty minutes or so of the game, it feels pretty creepy. Then, as you start to realize what you are playing, the effect wears off, and it becomes an exercise in examining every object in each room until you find the one (usually a note) that triggers an audio recording. Gone Home has about fifteen or so audio recordings that comprise its, *ahem*, "story", along with a ton of background materials that you discover about your family. While discovering these materials, you will pick up dozens of hair spray bottles, bibles, pencils, highlighters, bibles, cans of food and drink, detergent boxes, self-help books, and countless other objects that have absolutely nothing to do with them besides put them right back down. Hooray. A burglary simulator. I have always wanted to know what it feels like to be a junkie who breaks into someone’s house and opens up all the drawers looking for prescription drugs. Now I know.
For all of the praise that Gone Home has received for being an "interactive story", it is sorely lacking in interactivity. 95% of the objects in the game offer absolutely nothing to do besides pick them up, rotate them, and put them back down again. There are a few cassette tapes to put into tape players that have nothing besides music on them. What's left is the previously referenced story material, which is usually put in plain sight. Occasionally, you stumble onto a note that your sister wrote to herself(?) describing a secret passageway that she and her friend found. This unlocks a new area of the house for you to enter so that you can pick up objects and put them back down again. Then, after about two hours of doing this, the credits roll.
The other defining trait that Gone Home has become somewhat known for is its 1995 nostalgia. When I first went into this game, I thought that maybe there would be some interesting story reason for the game to be set in 1995. Nope. There isn't. It was simply an opportunity for the developer to barf a bunch of 90s pop culture references into our faces. Now, let me say that there is nobody who is more predisposed to loving this part of the game than me. I love the 90s. I love 90s music, I love 90s movies, and I have a ton of fond memories of that decade. The nostalgia in this game, however, is so gratuitous that it becomes annoying almost immediately. Gone Home will make you feel as if you are watching a made for TV movie on VH-1 or playing "Trivial Pursuit: 90s Edition". Ironically, even though this game is heavily focused on nostalgia, they didn't even get the technology of the time period right. There isn't a single CD in the house, nor is there a computer. Instead, everyone listens to crappy cassette tapes and writes notes to each other to communicate. Speaking of all of the notes you find tons of them scattered around the house, written by people too each other (even though these people see each other on a regular basis). I graduated from college in 1995 and I communicated with people by calling them and talking to them in person. I didn't write notes to people -- like, ever. This is lazy, contrived storytelling at its worst.
I don't understand why terrible games like this get so much praise, but that is the era that we now live in. Gone Home’s story sucks and Gone Home sucks as a game. I wish that people would stop trying to defend this crap with straw man arguments about whether an interactive story can be a game. Games like Anachronox and The Walking Dead have already proven that the “interactive story” concept can work. But it needs to actually be interactive. And the story needs to be not garbage. When it comes to meeting those two goals, Gone Home fails miserably.