Do a cursory online search about this game and you’ll probably see a lot of forum threads asking if Gone Home can actually be classed as a video game. The gaming community has dismissively dubbed games of this nature “Walking Simulators” basically meaning it’s a game where you walk around an environment to experience a story. This is a unique type of storytelling that you can only be done in a video game, where the story can be uncovered in different ways depending on how you explore.
This review will contain general spoilers but I’ll try and keep it vague
In Gone Home you take control of Kaitlin Greenbriar as she returns home from a midnight flight in 1995. You arrive to find the house deserted and a mysterious note on the front door from your younger sister asking you not to go looking for answers. So of course my first instinct is to ignore this and start rummaging around for stuff! Along your way you’ll find handwritten notes all over the house which slowly drip feed you parts of the overall story. When you find an important piece of info you’re treated to a voice over from your sister Sam as she seems to have left you a trail of diary entries explaining what’s happened to her.
Only 90s Kids Will Remember…
This game is awash with 90’s nostalgia, pretty much every object in the house can be picked up and examined. You’ll find cassette tapes, answering machines, old TVs, recordable VHS tapes labelled “X-Files – season 1”, Super Nintendo carts and lot’s of other innocuous household items young people won’t recognise.
At it’s core Gone Home is a story of two young girls (your sister Sam and Lonnie) bonding over Street Fighter 2 and punk music and eventually falling in love. As you move through the house you find evidence of their cute moments together. You’ll hear about them going to a punk show together then shortly after you can find a tape of the band they were talking about which you can play in the many cassette players dotted around the house. One of my favourite parts was finding evidence of them making their own Riot Grrrl punk fanzine even showing how they glued together the front cover. This hit close to home for me because my parents met at a punk show in the 80s and punk cassette tapes, fanzines and Super Nintendo games were all things that could be found in my house growing up.
On your travels you can also find out about their parents through notes and items. You can discover that your father is a struggling writer by finding letters back and forth with his publisher and later on coming across a depressingly large stack of his unsold books. You also find evidence that your mother has received a big promotion at her forestry job but later on Sam’s diary entries reference how distant she’s become as a result of her increasing workload. You’re not required to find out about the parents to progress the game but it really adds to your understanding of the story if you do seek it out.
It’s amazing how every piece of information you can find is connected. You’ll see something that seems unimportant like there’s a Skull ornament you can see in the foyer right at the start but you don’t find out until much later that this was the first gift Lonnie gave Sam after a trip to Mexico. Technically you could miss some of these connections too, I’m sure there’s a lot I missed on my first play through but that just makes it even more satisfying when you do link something together.
I don’t really want to say anymore about the game because the story is best experienced for yourself. This is a pretty short game too, a normal playthrough seems to last about 2 hours depending on how thoroughly you search the house. I really enjoyed my playthrough and for me it’s been a game that has became more impressive the more I’ve been thinking about it. At the time of writing the PS4 version of Gone Home is free for PlayStation Plus subscribers till July 5th so if anything I’ve said interests you give it a download.