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Gone Home was the was first game developed by The Fullbright Company originally released back in 2013 on PC. Three years later in 2016 the game came to PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and has just recently become available on Nintendo Switch. Out of the small team of four behind the game, three worked on the critically acclaimed BioShock 2 (2010) DLC, Minerva’s Den, so it’s no surprise that Gone Home tells a compelling story that won ‘best debut’ at the 2014 BAFTA Game Awards.
Gone Home takes place in 1995 when the protagonist, Katie Greenbriar, returns to her family’s new home in Oregon after travelling through Europe for the past year. Upon arriving, she is greeted by an empty house and a note from her younger sister, Sam, telling Katie not to investigate what has happened.
The game is very narrative driven and the more you explore the deeper the story gets, but saying that, there isn’t necessarily any objectives that you have to complete and very few defined goals. You play the game from the first-person perspective of Katie as you explore every inch of an oddly shaped house. Although the entirety of gameplay consists of simply walking around and picking up objects, the eerie environment and mysterious circumstances make the game very immersive.
As you explore different rooms of the house you will find objects that begin to piece together what has happened over the past year that you’ve been away as well as what happened to Sam. You can interact with almost any object you come across including the many mundane objects that do nothing more than add to the ‘nostalgic family home’ feel. Scattered amongst these everyday objects are letters, handwritten notes, photographs, and personal belongings that all give clues to the family life of the Greenbriars and expose the secrets they’ve been keeping from each other.
Each family member has their own story but the focus of the game is on Sam and the inner workings of her life as a teenager at a new school. This part of the story is told through audio diaries narrated by Sam herself that are unlocked when you interact with certain objects. There is something very comforting about hearing Sam’s voice in the haunting environment and as she pours her heart out into these diaries, and it feels as though it really could be your little sister opening up. Eventually you will find hidden objects and able to advance to new areas of the house where more clues will piece together Sam’s life and the whereabouts of the family. The game does a great job of exploring each character and little touches such as job descriptions, school work, and decoration give a real sense of who these characters are.
Gone Home is surrounded in mystery. Arriving home to an empty house and discovering secret lives of your family as a thunderstorm rages outside gives off a very unsettling feeling. The dark house and strange noises present a sense of dread, and you will find yourself looking behind you and quickly turning on the lights as soon as you enter a room, expecting a jump scare.
On a technical side, Gone Home can be glitchy. This doesn’t really affect the gameplay, but starting up the game often results in the Switch console completely freezing to the point where a hard reset is needed. The game is very short and will take 2-3 hours to complete depending on how thorough you are with your exploration. Focusing purely on Sam’s story you can easily get through the game within an hour or so.
Gone Home is less about the quality of gameplay or even the story as it is about completely immersing the player in an environment that could very well be their own family home. Sam’s story is very sweet and touches on real issues, as do the secrets of the other family members and with minimal action Gone Home has managed to deliver a highly believable experience that leaves you feeling nostalgic and melancholic.