This game is all about the story, so I feel like I would do it an injustice if I gave out too much information about it, possibly giving spoilers to the story for those of you who are interested in this game, so I will try to be as broad as possible, and be very careful as to what I type.
In Gone Home, we play as Katy, a young woman who was travelling abroad to expand her horizons and experience new things. Katy decides that it’s time to visit her family home, so she returns, only to find that there’s nobody there to welcome her. The house greets us with a letter from her younger sister Sam, who seemingly has left home, wishing Katy all the best, and hoping they meet in the future again.
Reliving the past, remember your childhood, discovering secrets and feeling nostalgic, Katy experiences all these things while exploring her family home. Sam leaves clues behind for her older sister, so that she can discover who she really is, and what she really wants to set out to do for her life. The whole game is about understanding who the younger sister Sam is, and what she wants to share with Katy, be it her troubles, her cheer, and her hopes. It’s a very heart-warming experience, and definitively a unique approach to telling a story that’s so personal and to some, maybe even controversial.
Design at its finest. Gone Home shines with polish in terms of its presentation. The whole game takes places in a wealthy mid 90s home, where the narrative itself is laid out in the house, with trinkets, articles, notes, recordings and other personal belongings of Katy’s family. The amount of detail in all of these items is absolutely fantastic, every piece of paper that has writing on it is perfectly legible, every recording found can be listened to with a tape player, and almost every drawer, door or closet can be opened, to peer at what’s inside. The fact that there’s so much to look for in the game gives us a sense of history too, in the sense that for some people who remember the 90s, this game might actually present them with a small nostalgia trip into their younger years. In the end, it’s just a normal family home, but the fact that it’s so full of detail is really impressive.
What I would call the “gameplay” of Gone Home, is just a means to show you what the story this house wants to tell you is all about. The only gameplay in this game is exploration, and maybe puzzle solving, if “lifting a few books to find a key beneath” can be called a puzzle. See, Gone Home is a very special game, and I find it strange to even call it a game, because Gone Home really feels more like an “Interactive Story” instead of a videogame. We explore this family home in order to find out what has been happening with the family in Katy’s absence, and ultimately, to find out what happened to Sam, and what made her leave the house.
It’s up to the player to decide how long they take to examine all there is to see in the house. It is very encouraged to explore every inch of the house, and every item lying around, because these will either, help you get a better understanding of what happened in your absence or are directly tied to how you move along in the game. Some of these are essential, and must be found in order to have access to locked areas in the house.
If you ever get lost or want to see what you have already unlocked and discovered, you have a small inventory where all your findings are stored and all your notes are saved. You also have a map, to help you quickly navigate through key areas of the house and mark where you stand, so you know which way you’re going if you’re looking for something specific. Everything works flawlessly and intuitively. It’s very simple.
I have never played a game like Gone Home before. I went into the game completely oblivious as to what it would be about, and at first I even thought that it could have been a horror game, just because right in the start, the house was empty and had no lights on. I’m happy to say that the experience has completely blown me away. The game touches on some pretty controversial subjects and shows us just what the videogame industry is capable of, in terms of story and narrative. Videogames have clearly ceased to be merely toys for children for quite a while now, and Gone Home definitively proves this once more. Gone Home is a profound and touching experience.