I apologize in advance for two things: 1) the possible length of this review, which I fear will be quite short and 2) my attitude, especially towards this type of video game. With my sorrows out of the way, Gone Home is an indie, first-person “exploration game” developed and published in 2013 by The Fullbright Company. If you have ever read my Oxenfree review or just about any of my reviews at all, you know I’m not at all fond for heavily narrative-based games. I find them to be hokey and dull as video games and think they simply just belong elsewhere through other medium.
In Gone Home, you play as Katie, a 20-year-old who returns home from a vacation in Europe to find the house abandoned. As the player, you explore the house in order to discover where everyone has gone. You find out the parents are on a week-long counseling trip, but as for the whereabouts of Katie’s 17-year-old sister, Sam, that is for the player to discover. As the player explores the large and lavish house, voiceovers of Sam’s diary entries periodically reveal the events leading up to her departure. So, in short, Gone Home is basically a story on why Sam isn’t home.
What bothers me the most about these narrative-focused games, is that the developers never in any way try to make the game interesting for the player. In Gone Home, all you are able to do as the player is slowly traverse through the whole house picking up and examining objects. The game only takes an hour to complete and nowhere during that one hour is any care shown towards the player. The devs get so wrapped up in delivering their story they never care once about who is actually playing their game.
But what probably irks me the most is the fact that this particular game has earned a boat load of awards. Just look at the home page for Gone Home. The game garnered some pretty prestigious awards, including Game of the Year by Polygon and Paste. Yet all they care about is the story at hand and the “discovery” of it when the story is not even that special in the first place.
Yes, I found the story to be quite sweet and poignant (and on occasion forcefully quirky), but certainly nothing groundbreaking. The story had LGBT involvement. So what? There are potentially extremely better procedures to include such a topic than this flabby “interactive game.” Every year, hundreds of game development companies are trying their hardest to revolutionize the medium, yet lazily crafted games like Gone Home are earning all the accolades.
What’s most disappointing about the “discovery” aspect is that the player doesn’t even directly uncover the diary entries themselves. All you essentially do to unlock each entry is play the game. There are also grossly ostentatious attempts at little “secrets” through hidden compartments and rooms within the household.
Now that I’m finished ranting, the only positive aspects I can muster are the decent story, the smooth art style, and everything aesthetically. If I didn’t care so much about how a game looks and sounds, I probably would loathe Gone Home for the most part. But through its lonely look and feel (I love the choice of a raging thunderstorm happening outside), I was able to appreciate the game in that sense. Aurally, there were points where the game felt it would turn into a horror game (and with how the game was, I was honestly hoping it would take that turn).
Again, sorry for my attitude, but Gone Home belongs in a category of games I don’t think I will ever be able to comprehend, appreciate, or frankly “get.” This sweet but trite hour-long sob-story outrageously costs 15 dollars, which is like buying a ten to 15 page short story for that much (luckily I got it for free). I am glad you guys liked it but count me out. Next time, Fullbright, please just take your stories elsewhere.