Kaitlin Greenbriar has just come home from being abroad for a year. She came home surprisingly, but she called ahead and left a message to let her family know. Standing on the porch, she can see her house is locked and seemingly empty. Strange. There’s a note on the front door from her younger sister Sam apologizing for not being home, asking her not to go poking around. Even stranger. This is the set up for Gone Home, and poking around is exactly what Kaitlin is going to do. Gone Home challenges players to thoroughly inspect the Greenbriar household, piecing together a tapestry of drama sown together by notes, printed emails, letters, journals, show tickets, and Sam’s amateur fiction. The result is a very mature exploration of identity, family, adventure, and love.
Gameplay is as simple as it gets. The player controls Kate from a first person perspective, looking and moving with the analog sticks. She can interact with objects, like opening doors and drawers, turning on lights, picking up items, and reading notes. Her vision can zoom in at any time, and she can crouch to look under furniture. A map can be consulted as Kate explores the house, outlining rooms and special notes, and an inventory and journal keeps track of keys, lock combinations, and important entries by Sam. There are no enemies to fight and no dangers to avoid, just a mystery that can only be solved by exploring every inch of the house. This might sound dull on paper, but the execution draws players through the abode in an irresistible way.
Uncovering the family’s inner drama and Sam’s personal thoughts and passions drive the entire game. Gone Home is a game of discovery, telling a touching and personal story. Finding particular items unlocks a voice-over of Sam reading from her journal. The actress (Sam Grayson) does an excellent job of communicating emotion, and I found myself quickly drawn into her situation and dying to find out what happened to her. This drives the entire experience, pushing players throughout the house to discover just one more scrap of detail. By the end of the experience, I found myself despairing at her pain and cheering at her triumphs, and the conclusion was worth every moment being the detective.
To be clear, Gone Home is not for everyone, but it perfectly accomplishes telling the story it wants to tell in its own unique way. If you’re looking for a novel, exploratory, emotional experience, Gone Home delivers; a great big puzzle that reveals the heart of a home.
Brew: a rare, unique aged whisky. You wouldn't drink it all the time, but you haven't forgotten that one time you did, and its nuanced flavor still sticks with you.