“Gone Home” is a game that certainly isn’t for everyone. Its focus on storytelling over gameplay and its short length may turn some away, but those who find themselves lost in the game’s story will be in for a fantastic experience.
“Gone Home” was originally released on PC in 2013 before coming to consoles in January of this year, and in June it was offered for free to subscribers of PlayStation Plus, meaning that many gamers are playing it for the first time.
In the game, you play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, a 21-year-old girl who returns from a year-long trip in Europe to find her home empty and a note on the door from her sister, warning Kaitlin not to try to figure out where she is. From this point, the player wanders into the dimly-lit, eerie house with the rest of the story in the player's hands.
The story of “Gone Home” is primarily told through what you find in the house — the controls and gameplay mechanics are minimal. The player can walk around the house and open drawers, read papers, find journals and interact with objects, and with the information gathered from this searching, the player slowly pieces together the game’s story.
This might sound boring, and to some people it is, but what keeps many players enthralled with “Gone Home” is the level of detail put into the environment and the writing in the papers you find. The house feels lived in and real with soda cans and pizza boxes lying around, creaky doors and flickering lights. The game does a fantastic job of making you feel like you are rummaging through an actual house that people live in, and this attention to detail goes a long way in helping build the atmosphere.
This attention to detail also gives the game its own unique and surprisingly creepy tone. Although the storytelling and tone setting is very subtle, “Gone Home” is one of the most unsettling games I have ever played. The mystery behind the story paired with environmental noise, dim lighting and music that builds up and slows down as the game goes on made me feel an intense mix of excitement and fear as I moved into each new space.
With “Gone Home” focusing most of its attention on story, the narrative needs to be a strong one, and it is — provided you have the patience to seek it out. As I searched through each room of the house, I started to learn more and more about Kaitlin’s mother, father and sister. Some pieces of information I gained late in the game gave crucial context to another detail I learned at the beginning, making for multiple satisfying moments when I finally pieced together the events of different plot threads.
In this way, “Gone Home” rewards thorough gamers who are determined to search every inch of the house and gather as much information as possible. However, it is possible to complete the game without all of the information available, and almost every detail can be found in whatever order that player happens to find them. This means that depending on how much time you spend searching and which path you take in the house, each player’s experience of learning the story will be different, and every path is interesting in its own way.
While “Gone Home” can be a very unique and exciting experience for some people, it isn’t a game that everyone will enjoy. If you are someone who wants all games to have involved and engaging gameplay, or if you are someone who prefers a clear, explicitly told narrative over more subtle, environmental storytelling, then “Gone Home” might not be the game for you. However, with the game’s $20 price and short, approximately two-hour length, there isn’t too much time or money lost if you were to try it and not like it.
“Gone Home” uses a unique method of storytelling that won’t work for all players but will be viewed as an engaging and memorable experience for those who find themselves connected to the mysteries contained within the Greenbriar house.