The dream of the '90s is alive on the PC.
The most important thing I learned about creative writing in college was that no story idea is completely unique—it’s how it is told that makes it different. Gone Home is one of the most perfect examples of this I’ve seen in the past decade. This shouldn't be too much of a surprise considering that, Steve Gaynor, the writer and design lead on the Minerva's Den DLC for Bioshock 2 is one of the co-founders of The Fullbright Company. The game takes a simplistic storyline and twists it into something tremendously complex.
You play as Kaitlin, the older sister of a seemingly ordinary family unit comprised of two leave-it-to-beaver parents and a younger sister, Samantha.
There’s nobody home to greet you after your return from a trip to Europe and you must search your house for clues regarding their whereabouts. The storm raging outside, lights flickering as you walk from room to room, accompanied by the eerie silence of the old Victorian House, inspire the perfect balance of fear and curiosity. I know I don’t want to go down the pitch-black hallway, but if I do then maybe I’ll find another clue. I could also get axe murdered at any second, though, couldn’t I?
Clues are uncovered with the assistance of a blue dog... no, that's not it...
Hints regarding your family's disappearance are uncovered in a variety of different ways: crumpled notes in wastebaskets, paperwork left scattered around by your parents, and Samantha's angsty teenage scribblings. Finding certain objects or hidden short story pages of Samantha's trigger voice-over narrations from a diary she addressed to you, her older sister Kaitlin. These expositions give a more in-depth look into what happened while you were away and how that may have contributed to the absence of your family.
The excerpts from a short story Samantha writes ties into the main plot, and you can see how the events depicted in the diary bleed into the fictional tale she was crafting. If you take your time to explore every nook and cranny, you’ll find the scraps of this work hidden throughout the house. It adds a tremendous amount of depth to the main story.
I found a note behind a nightstand detailing a particularly risqué night in Samantha's life, and as soon as it started getting good it dropped out of my hand, back to where I had found it. When I went to go pick it back up, I couldn't and the words as I scrolled over it had changed stating that, as Samantha's sister, I was not going to finish that note. This is the only kind of development we get for the main character, Kaitlin, during the game.
While the rollover dialogue for certain items can be clever, it would have been nice to have a little bit of audible dialogue when reacting to things throughout the game. If I were alone in a creepy, old Victorian house, I’d be talking to myself to offset my uneasiness and cursing like a sailor when a light bulb mysteriously goes out in a long, winding hallway or when the thunder clapped at the exact worst moment. There also weren't any mirrors that allowed me to see my reflection, which would have been nice to have around.
Searching for items that will help you uncover the mystery is more tedious than it is difficult. There are a few times in Gone Home where finding a lock combination is essential to opening a container, but doing so is more of an optional task.So even if you don't uncover these extra bits of information, you don't miss out on the main plot of the game.
In an industry flooded with first- and third-person shooter adventure games, we sometimes forget that a game doesn’t have to have guns or endless amounts of action, violence, and sex to be compelling. It took me three hours to play Gone Home, the same amount of time to complete some DLC add-ons I've played from some of the more current mainstream titles, yet most of them didn't even come close to having the emotional impact of Gone Home. Along with the fear and uncertainty, this game strongly taps into a sense of nostalgia that anyone who grew up in the '90s can relate too. There are plenty of ways the creators of this game display their homage to iconic video game culture and pop culture during that time period, with Easter eggs at almost every turn.
Gone Home will make you question everything, including how you react to certain key events within the game world. It was a lot like the feeling I get from watching a really amazing episode of The Twilight Zone, where the eerie story serves a greater purpose than just scaring the crap out of you. There's a message behind the mystery of the house on Arbor Hill that may reveal as much about you as it does about Kaitlin's missing family.
Code provided by publisher. PC exclusive.