I went into Gone Home blind, and I’m incredibly glad I did. News about the game was blowing up for a while, and I had to avoid reading articles and listening to podcasts about it. It was a little maddening. I am the type to do all sorts of research into something that catches my interest. I enjoy being engrossed. I don’t need a hype machine; I get myself hyped. I obsess.
With that said, Gone Home may be the most enthralling thing I’ve every played.
You don’t need to know much about Gone Home. It takes place in 1995, and overflows with references to the culture of the time. It’s a first-person exploration game that follows Kaitlin (Katie) Greenbriar, a young woman who has just returned home from traveling abroad. No one picked up the phone when she called to announce her return, and no one met her at the airport. She arrives at the front door of her family’s relatively new home at about 1:15 am, and no one is there to greet her. Throughout the course of Gone Home, you will learn about Kaitlin’s family, and why no one is there.
Because her family moved while she was traveling abroad, the building you’ll explore is as new to Kaitlin as it is to you. Everything here is as much a surprise to the character as it is to the player. Nearly everything in the home is interactive. Every drawer and door can be opened. Almost every object can be inspected. Most of it is incidental, but it builds a convincing world to explore.
A lot has happened in the time Katie has been gone. It’s hard to know what to think, early on. The game is vague, and no outward indicators have been left to tell Katie why no one is in the house. Each hallway and room you explore will deepen the mystery. If you’re anything like me, you will speculate wildly until the very end. By the end of your journey through the mansion, however, you’ll be left with no questions.
Gone Home is intense, due in no small part to its tightly-integrated story and well-planned path through the mansion. As you make your way through the house, a voice over of Samantha, Katie’s sister, tells the story of what has happened to her over the past year. She is clever, witty, and utterly engaging. Less a game and more a piece of interactive fiction, Gone Home is superbly written, acted, and scored. The visuals, while not groundbreaking, are very good. A great deal of the game is about lighting, and is more about presenting a believable world than wowing the player. It succeeds in every aspect.
If you have $20, around 4 hours free, and a relatively recent computer (Windows, Mac, or Linux!), Gone Home should not be missed.