I've been ready to buy Gone Home since it first came out. I'm not sure how I managed to duck it for so long - Christmas Duck! - but when it went on sale here on GOG I grabbed it right away.
I'm a great fan of the concept of games-as-literature, so I was pretty sure I'd like it. In the way of uncertainty, though, I worried that I might not. The idea of games as a serious art form is so attractive, and I have enjoyed arty games - Benoit Sokal's Syberia and Amerzone come to mind - but the big watershed titles, like Esther and To the Moon, are games that I own and have not played. And I've been having so much fun with Borderlands lately, and that is definitively and profoundly not art. So, what if I've been kidding myself? What if arty games really are mostly dull trifles, like the yakkos say?
Happily, there was no cause for worry. Gone Home is brilliant.
It has been accused of not being a game, which is ridiculous - I just played it, so Q.E.D. It's been called a walking simulator, leading me to believe that a lot of people are unfamiliar with walking, which in my experience does not often involve delving for secrets in a spooky empty house over the course of a rainy night. It has been called a pricey venture for relatively little gameplay, and there's some truth in that. About as much truth as in claiming that your meal at a great restaurant is a rip-off because the food doesn't weigh enough for the cost, or that a movie you saw didn't have enough actors in it to justify the ticket price, or that there was another one at the cineplex that was longer so you might have gotten less screen-time for the buck than you deserved.
I finished Gone Home in just over three engrossing hours, and apparently I missed a couple of bits - dammit! - but I got most of it. I bought it on sale. At first I was thinking I would not play it again, but after mulling it over for a time I'm pretty sure I will, if only to listen through to the commentary.
You are Katie, come home suddenly from an extended vacation in Europe to an empty house in Oregon. Your family recently moved here, so the house is a place you've never seen before. It's June of 1995, and your parents are away on a trip; the house is left in the care of your little sister, Samantha. The year is important because it establishes the story in a time before cell phones, when the Internet was a young, barely-understood thing (Alta Vista, anyone? Gopher, WAIS?) and computers were rare appliances. Despite the sprawling mansion that is the current Greenbriar residence, the family has little money, and times have been hard.
Way too much has been said about the plot of this game in public forums and press, so I won't spoil anything. If you've heard the social-agenda nonsense that's been spouted about Gone Home, fear not: it's pretty much irrelevant to this marvelous, delicate story. The game requires attention and reading skills, but not the usual puzzle-solving that we might expect from an adventure game. Still, it unfolds like a magic flower if you press on it lightly. There is much to explore concerning Dad, Mom, sister Sam, and crazy Uncle Oscar, and exploration is done by listening to voiceover journal entries and reading documents and letters and scraps and clippings hidden here and there throughout the house. Some of it is buried pretty deeply, and you'll need to imagine the characters from pretty scant clues to figure out what was what. Some of it is red-herring stuff, some just mystery.
It's true that you aren't armed and have no skills and will find no phat lewt, but that doesn't mean you won't be involved in the story. As the final bits fell into place and the last location unlocked, I raced Katie through the house to see if things would end as I was certain they would - I felt an urgency unlike anything I've ever experienced in a game. I could hardly bear to turn the final corner to see the last scene. I felt like I was at the climax of a really good book, with the suspense turned up so high that I could hardly wait for the end of each page before turning to the next one.
It really feels like a book - it has that kind of restraint, and that kind of chosen detail. There's lots of misdirection, in a good way, and the sound design keeps the various rooms full of unknown, lingering mystery: there's lots of creaking and clicking and sighing, and it kept me nervous throughout. I liked nearly everything about this game, though I would agree that the asking price of $20 is a little stiff. It's not completely out of line, but the game is easily worth $10, and it's a steal for less than that.
Bring it your patience and curiosity, and you'll be rewarded.
Post edited October 13, 2014 by LinustheBold