Gone Home review: since you've been gone

By Ozzie Mejia, Aug 15, 2013 11:00am PDT

It's always dangerous to take that first step out into the real world. As exhilarating as the first venture into adulthood may be, there's always a sense of familiarity that gets left behind, never to return. Things change, people mature, and even family can become unrecognizable after a long time away. I wasn't expecting to see these dynamics play out in The Fullbright Company's debut title, Gone Home. I'm happy to say the game has exceeded every expectation I had and tells a wonderfully heartwarming story and demonstrates how to effectively tell a compelling narrative through the medium of video games.

Gone Home is a point-and-click exploration mystery set in a vintage two-story house. The player takes control of a college student named Katie, who's returning home from studying abroad in Europe. She returns to find an empty house in the middle of a thunderstorm. There's no sign of life and the idea becomes to unravel, piece-by-piece, what's been happening over the course of Katie's time away.

The appeal of Gone Home is in getting to know Katie's family by exploring every object possible. There are trinkets, answering machine messages, and random notes that all reveal the various events that have shaped individual family members during Katie's time away: her father's struggle to become a relevant author, her mother's growing disenchantment with her marriage, and her younger sister Sam's efforts to overcome her shyness and adjust to her new high school life.

Fleshing out the family's story is compelling in itself. However, the manner in which Gone Home manages to make the house as much of a character as the people is what enhances the overall experience. The house has a history and after extensively exploring the hidden secrets it holds, there's a sense that something frightening awaits behind a corner or that a secret note will relay a harsh event that explains the house's emptiness. Katie isn't just filling in the blanks of her family's life in her absence, she's also learning what made her home become known as "the psycho house." The house's dreary visuals, lighting that acts up at random moments, and outside weather add tremendously to the game's overall tone and atmosphere.

This might lend to the impression that Gone Home is a supernatural horror tale. It's far from it, actually, which makes the story elements about "the psycho house" and the potential hauntings within it start to feel out of place near the end of the story. I started questioning whether it was meant to be a red herring or whether I was supposed to get more of a sense for what the house was than I actually had.

What Gone Home turns out to be is a gripping tale of coming to terms with life and identity. It's a story of a family's growth and struggles, especially when it comes to Sam. Throughout the game, Katie will discover objects that will trigger an audio journal entry, narrated by her younger sister. The journal tells Sam's story with such a gravitas that it quickly becomes the most captivating aspect of the game, one that I feel really pays off at the end. Without spoiling the twists of Sam's story arc, it deals with very serious subject matter and does so with a type of maturity that I rarely ever see in video games. It's hard not to be touched by the story's ultimate resolution and it's one that absolutely has to be experienced.

On the surface, Gone Home may look like an average point-and-click adventure. Aside from the scope of the house, which features about two dozen rooms, there's nothing about the point-and-click mechanics that particularly stand out. However, The Fullbright Company's first indie effort is backed up by a touching narrative, one paced incredibly well, that effectively engages players through the bulk of the game's short three-hour runtime. Gone Home may prove that while you can't go home again, you should definitely make some time to visit. [9]


This review is based on early downloadable PC code provided by the publisher. The review system features a quad-core i5 3300S 2.7 GHz processor, 8 GB of RAM, and Intel HD Graphics. Gone Home will be available digitally on PC, Mac, and Linux today. The game is not rated by the ESRB.

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