Thursday, 2 January 2014

Gone Home

The Title Screen

Released in 2013, Gone Home is an interactive-story focused, exploration game by The Fullbright Company for Windows and Mac OS.

The First Thing
The elegant art style and competent options menu were pleasing discoveries and made a good first impression. However, I quickly encountered some very unstable FPS. Since at first glance Gone Home is not a technically demanding title, I went looking for a reason. The developers state that high/stable FPS is not to be expected since the use of ultra-high texture quality cause FPS drops. They then go on to say that high FPS is not required, nor is detrimental to the experience. I'm not so sure I'd agree that "it is not detrimental" but I can confirm high FPS is not required. This is an exploration game, with no reliance on fast or precise mouse control.

Plot & Devices
Kaitlin Greenbriar has returned to her family's new house after a European trip of unknown length. Upon arriving in this unfamiliar home, Kaitlin finds it completely deserted; no sign of her younger sister 'Sam' or her parents. A note on the door from Sam tells Kaitlin not to go looking for a reason as to why this is the case, but that they will meet up one day. Kaitlin enters the strange house and tries to find out what has happened.


Uncovering the story is the point of the game and is achieved through exploring the house and interacting with objects; normally ones with text or pictures on. Certain objects will prompt entries into a Sam's narrated audio journal, which offers more perspective. The story and progression are linear, but hidden well enough to promote a genuine feeling of exploration. The plot is about Sam, with a few hints about the parents along the way. Although Kaitlin would already know certain facts already, it is not long before the player and Kaitlin are discovering new information at the same time.

Disclaimer (and Spoiler): I apologise for this spoiler, but it may be necessary. One of the prominent themes of the story is homosexuality and players uncomfortable with this subject will be uncomfortable with Gone HomeI personally felt that the subject was handled matter-of-factly enough and was neither condemned nor condoned. As Kaitlin is a silent protagonist, players are free project their own feelings onto the subject.

Many a light shall be turned on

The Game
A somewhat recurring theme of 2013, the gameplay can be neatly summed up as: a linear exploration title with a strong focus on story and atmosphere. The player can move and interact with objects, picking items up or altering them in some way; turning on a light, opening a door, etc. Targeting objects with the reticle reveals an option, and interacting will then perform that action. Once or twice there are puzzles to solve, but these are no more complex than "find the combination to the combination lock".

The fully voiced narration of Sam's journal is updated periodically upon examining certain items. For example, finding a concert music ticket may prompt a journal entry about going to a concert. Interactable objects can be picked up and rotated to examine and are usually just everyday objections to help build a general picture; occasionally providing some specific insight into characters or events. There is a rudimentary physics engine applying to the objects but is never needed for game progression and just helps with immersion.

The graphical fidelity of Gone Home is surprisingly high, due to its high-resolution textures. Lighting plays a big part in generating atmosphere, but although there is a 'horror' feel to the game there are no fear elements nor action sequences of any kind. As a PC game it comes with a robust options menu, including an FOV slider. It is a short game and I did not encounter bugs/errors of any kind.

Examining objects reveals the details

Wrap Up & Negatives
As mentioned already, steady FPS will not be a common experience. I did find it detrimental, but not overly so; in terms of 'immersion building', rather than gameplay. Considering this is caused by an extremely high texture quality it can be overlooked since those particular textures go far in creating the mood and atmosphere.

Like other similar titles, this is not much of a 'game' and is certainly a brief experience; taking me about 75 minutes to complete. Although more interactive than such games as The Stanley Parable and Dear Esther, I personally would have preferred more puzzles. Given the low retail price and the size of the development team this is to be expected.

Personal preference will decide whether the homosexual theme is a negative. With my neutral hat on, I feel that it is handled delicately and is actually more a tale of youth, family interaction and the lies we tell each other. But it will be up to the individual player.

I liked it, more or less. It could do with a few improvements but out of this recent wave of story-focused exploration games I would say this is the best yet. The Stanley Parable was funny and thought provoking but Gone Home is an exceptionally well-told story experience, which I preferred. The developers should be commended for creating such fleshed out and believable narrative, and competently handling a divisive subject matter.

A solid story-telling experience that excels at a simple idea and a title that will lead the way in this new wave of exploration/story-focused games.

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