By Tom Hooper aka Atomp
Gone Home is as much an interactive experience as it is a game, this is nothing new to my little segment and the arguments of game vs non-game have all but been covered so I shall leave that little argument at the door. The idea behind Gone Home is to explore a house and uncover the story of the occupants, and what an idea! What starts out as a frankly voyeuristic exercise is quickly transformed into some fine story telling as the player character is fleshed out and the family is given depth and history.
The construction of the environment that the player has to explore; the house, is very believable. It feels lived in and real, not just a playground for the player but an actual house containing fragments of the occupant’s lives. These fragments are a variety of objects, sound elements and written notes. It’s just as well that the story takes place in the 90s, as I doubt so much handwritten or hard copy communication would exist in a 21st century household. As the player explores they uncover new insights and gradually discover the story bit by bit, learning about each absent character and how they’ve interacted up to now. This is uncovering the aftermath of a story already played out, sifting through the evidence in an almost detective-like task. Somehow the game creators have created a set process of discovery, which is possibly the game’s greatest strength. This process however is also the greatest weakness as there were obvious elements of stonewalling which despite being explained in the narrative still drew me out of the experience somewhat. There was nearly always that sensation of a guiding hand, stopping access to some areas or pushing you into others. Once the story gets flowing this becomes less of an issue, however early on it can appear to limit the freedom of exploration somewhat and pull the player from full immersion. Maybe the game would’ve suffered from an entirely open experience, maybe it would’ve been too hard to balance the large variety of different paths players may have chosen although maybe just maybe the game may have felt more organic. I’d like to emphasise though that I am really really nitpicking and that this stonewalling only matters up to the point where the player character is established fully and role-playing over-rules voyeurism.
The narrative is very well constructed and told in a creative and unique manner through a variety of viewpoints each with an established character. The creators went to a great deal of effort to not only construct the characters as they are now but to provide a great deal of backstory for each of them, essentially placing many of their actions and opinions into context. So whilst you may read a letter or diary entry detailing a certain event and gain a certain perspective on how each character has acted, there is still a huge amount of ancillary information that you have acquired which will perhaps explain why everyone acted as they did in that particular encounter. It is almost a detective game in which deductive processes combine with character profiling based upon evidence, although unlike the theoretically clinical and detached nature of the detective the game establishes the player character well, which injects (inherited) emotion into the whole detective process. The price the player pays for this is a relatively short experience, on a pretty observant and casually paced playthrough I clocked 83 minutes. A player determined to find and absorb every scrap of available information may clock in at 2 hours, it’s tough to say. I’d recommend viewing your investment here in a different light to a game, instead maybe compare it to the price you’d pay for a film. If you’re really not sure of the price then wait for it to go on sale or maybe hit a Humble Bundle.
The aesthetic of the game is well established and whilst the graphical fidelity is not ground-breaking, it is more than adequate and quite impressive for an indie title. The lighting and effects are good and when combined with some great ambient sound design create a believable and immersive environment. There is great attention to detail in everything and the polish is second to none. It’s worth noting that the game comes with a pretty well stocked options menu including an FOV slider. Whilst this isn’t an experience requiring 100 degree FOV it’s always nice to knock it up to 80-90 just for comfort’s sake. The voice acting in the game is fantastically well done, to the point where I almost forget to comment on it as it just worked so well, with the music being likewise.
The game is available on Windows, Mac and Linux with system requirements being fairly reasonable for all systems. (1.80GHz CPU, 2GB RAM, almost any graphics chip). It’s worth noting from the Steam page system requirements that Intel HD Graphics 4000 are currently not supported on Windows 8, so if you’re unfortunate enough to have a laptop or machine running Windows 8 *and* an Intel iGPU then perhaps think twice or play the game using a Linux LiveDisk. It’s great to see this amount of cross-platform compatibility and the developers should be given a hearty pat on the back for doing so. Availability is good, with my most common suggestion being much the same as ever; buy it from the game website through the Humble Store applet. This is $20 (approx £12.93) and will provide a Steam key along with DRM free downloads for all three platforms through the Humble Store library. Comparatively buying the game from Steam direct comes to £14.99 (approx $23.18) and will give exactly the same without the DRM free option, and will probably net the developer a smaller cut.
In conclusion Gone Home is a fantastic experience, solidly constructed from the foundations up and finished with a fantastic polish. The manner in which the story is told is unique and interesting whilst the story itself draws you in brilliantly. The one nitpick may be related to value, but then that entire argument is predicated around a time=value decision and having played the game I’d say that it is not to be judged by game time but by enjoyment, when it comes to the experience time≠value. If you’re on a short budget then I’d recommend avoiding spoilers and picking this up at a price you can afford, just try to support the developer because otherwise these stop being made. Gone Home is great and well worth picking up.