Reviews: Gone Home

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Loved it to pieces (but not for everyone)
I have no idea how to classify this growing genre. I’ve started just labeling them “Interactive Narratives”, which gets the point across while sounding nice and pseudo-intellectual.

So, Gone Home is an “Interactive Narrative” game, which consists of you, as 20-year-old Katie, meandering through your not!childhood home after a year abroad. But as it’s 1995, none of your family had a Facebook page to let you know what the bloody hell went on during your European adventures. Spoilers: Family Drama! Weeeeeee!

To say more would spoil it. Gone Home is entirely reliant on its plot and how invested you become in uncovering all the mundane (ie. in comparison of what games are usually about) snippets of your family’s life.

It’s unavoidably going to be compared to Dear Esther, due to the lack of any real gameplay (other than choosing which direction to go) and the portioned out story. Gone Home has more control and interactivity, sure, but it’s not an unreasonable comparison. To whit – I really liked Dear Esther, and I really liked Gone Home.

And like Dear Esther, I can see players splitting themselves down the middle - CoD players” vs “Pretentious twats”, which is a shame but hey, Internet. Still, as a pretentious Co D-playing twat, I find myself thoroughly confused. Some of my best friends whose opinion I greatly respect would sooner drive a steak-knife into their goolies than sit through Gone Home, while I’m looking forward to a replay. Odd to get yourself wound-up over it.

There are a few other items I have seen some take issue with – the price, for starters. $20.00 for, at most, 3 hours of gameplay (1.5 seems to be the average. I’m a dawdler) might be too much for some. There’s the aforementioned straddling the line between “game” and “movie with arrow buttons”. Also – there’s no twist, otherwordly or otherwise. Sorry. Apparently some were expecting to find Jacob Marley in the attic.

So in summary: I liked it a heck of a lot. You may not though. It’s that kind of game. I could go on, but I’ve just learnt how short 400 words really is.

NB. I should also mention I've no real personal experience with the elements of Sam’s story, Gone Home’s main hook, so I’m in no position to really judge it critically. I, for one, just found it to be a good, sweet story told exceptionally well.
  comments: 7
"Story-driven" done right
Many games that are praised for their story are ultimately just regular games that happen to tell a story inbetween levels, or are totally linear scriptfests that force story upon you. What they have in common, though, is oftentimes a lack of real interactivity, as you merely move along and experience scripted moments, dialog and cinematics. Here, though, things are done differently.

Picture a First Person Shooter. Now remove the shooting and make it less linear, focusing entirely on story, exploration, and interacting with the environment. That's basically what you get here. The controls are First Person Shooter controls whether you use keyboard/mouse or a controller, but there is no shooting. You walk around an abandoned house and examine the place, reading anything that catches your interest. And there is a lot.

While many games use the "oops I lost my journal" style of storytelling, Gone Home makes more logical sense - the things left around the house include newspaper clippings about events important to the family, crumpled-up unfinished story drafts by the budding novelist father, a rejection letter from a book company, bills, sticky notes, letters and journal entries written by the main character's sister Sam, and more. Some of these writings are genuinely funny, such as a homework assignment Sam chose to goof around in while still technically following its instructions to the letter, turning a health class assignment into an epic war story. You can also interact mildly with the environment, most notably putting a cassette tape into a tape player to listen to it. All these details flesh out the lives of the family in this house and paint a complete picture of what happened to everyone and why.

While there's no combat or action, some basic gaming skills are necessary to navigate the house at some points. For example, a secret passageway requires you to crouch and remove a panel from the wall - second nature to a gamer, but not something a non-gamer would pick up on. Also, many light switches are in the dark, and may be hard to find at first.

Gone Home is very short, but as an experiment of how to make an interactive story, I hope it succeeds. It has the potential to grow the appeal of gaming as a medium, and hopefully will lead to bigger and better ideas.
  comments: 0