Gone Home is an experiential game about adolescent discovery and identity. The player is just coming home from a trip, and arrives to find her sister and parents mysteriously absent for her arrival. As you explore the house the mystery unravels piece by piece through narration tied to the places and objects you are discovering. There are no game mechanics per say but you can pick up objects and examine them more closely in order to uncover additional details. This, with the exception of a few click-to-open options and a lock, are the interaction points within the game.
The essence of Gone Home is its narrative and environment. Yes, it is an experiential game lasting around two hours, if that, but Firewatch showed that you can make a great environment and narrative while still engaging the player to actually participate. While I found Gone Home’s narrative to be an intriguing and emotional one, I also found it lacking in originality. The plot as told through the voiceover narration and the object information within the house are interesting, but that interest tapered off as I progressed and grew used to the formula. The interactions between family members are interesting to stumble onto in different areas through object placement, but can also be very easily missed or overlooked.
The developers, Fullbright, do a lot of interesting things with an ostensibly “normal” family house where the object placement and detail are very well done and reinforce the narrative and voiceover at key locations. They really do build an atmosphere that I found immersive but they only do it as a frame for their narrative. Due to the premise, the setting is only so interesting, and while I feel that Gone Home has a good art style it does not have one that turns tables and couches into anything besides your run-of-the-mill tables and couches. If the player is not interested in delving deep into the backstory behind a picture or a newspaper clipping then they have little in the environment to keep them intrigued, putting more stress on the story instead of spreading it throughout a mechanically fun experience as well as a narratively interesting one.
I enjoyed Gone Home immensely, but for many it will be a sparser experience than they might be looking for. It has a very well made narrative and a well composed environment, but that environment is a suburban town house and that narrative, while excellent in my opinion and well delivered, is a story and not the game. For what Gone Home is, a video game, it does not present much in the way of graphical fidelity or gameplay innovation. If you require either of those to enjoy yourself then it is likely not for you. But, if you find Gone Home’s narrative compelling enough to pull you forward, then expect a fulfilling and well executed experience, if a short one.
Dominic, 2 hours.