There’s a change coming, can you feel it? It’s in the air, albeit the nearest thing to ‘air’ the vast majority of us all interact with online anyway, in that games are reaching a cultural tipping point. As was more than evident at PAX this year through their Indie Megabooth, smaller development teams are dominating the fallout and chatter amongst the interwebs following the annual exhibition, bringing about a shift in the games media towards titles that have smaller voices with lots to say, as oppose to the deafening wail of the triple-A blockbusters.
One title that has enabled the fervor to build so palpably is The Fullbright Company‘s minimalist masterpiece Gone Home, a ‘game’ in the most literal interactive sense. Placing you in the shoes of returning gap-year student Kaitlin Greenbriar, it’s a first-person affair that’s soaked in the atmospheric tendencies of something like the recently released Amnesia: A Machine for Pigs, yet with none of the overblown horror tropes distracting you from it’s intensely driven narrative focus.
Said focus is derived from an absolute masterclass in withholding key parts of information to the player, yet giving the impression rather like Telltale’s Walking Dead series that the story is unfolding uniquely for you, although the strings are eternally held by Fullbright’s puppet masters the entire time.
The game features no cutscenes or introductory sequences of any sort, save for plonking you outside the Greenbriar’s family home, suitcase at your side, with a note from your sister attached to the front door alluding to something that seems to have gone awry whilst you were away. In another masterstroke, the game is set in 1995, and makes the most of those explosive, digitally-flirtatious times by including hundreds of high-resolution art assets such as period-appropriate magazines, hand-written notes from family members, playable mix-tapes, and a whole host more that pad out every room of the labyrinthine mansion you find yourself in.
To delve into why Gone Home is such a unique experience would require story elements to be highlighted and dissected, and if you’re one of the people who has only felt the ephemeral aftershock the ending of this has released online, but is yet to check out the full package, please do so immediately and experience the Greenbriar mansion the exact same way main character Kaitlin does; all alone, driven intently by an explorative purpose.
What really sets the experience apart is the constant reliance on video gaming as a medium, forever playing with the bygones of influence and expectation from more technically accomplished games by instilling an utterly bare-bones control scheme that forces an information-heavy intake. So resolute is its reliance on interaction with the game world by way of picking up every item you see, that said controls are a mainstay of the pause menu.
The only way you’ll be able to assemble the full picture is to constantly check dates on documentation by zooming in and rotating every object. A cross-reference with a diary entry here, or a note left on a shelf there, and you begin to put together in your head an idea of what has gone down in your seemingly abandoned family home.
Another narrative trope of first-person storytelling in 2013 is the audio log, something we’ve seen used to great effect in the System Shock/Bioshock franchise. Here it’s less an actual item that’s playing away as you walk around, and more a voice in your head relaying the written notes of your sister. It’s a simple system of storytelling that feeds perfectly into an immensely satisfying denouement, and in a game where the sound design is comprised of floorboard creaks, thunder claps and pouring rain, a friendly voice in your ear is a welcome accompaniment.
The final few minutes of the game definitely have the most impact on those of us who have played horror games in the past, or have a firm grasp of general first-person exposition, as without giving anything away, it can be said that as with games like the aforementioned Walking Dead, it’s the subsequent self-reflection you feel after backtracking over all the facts and figures as the credits roll that many post-game revelations come flooding in.
For many, the will to dive back in with the hope of finding more items to back up theories will be strong. If that sounds vague, let’s just say there are more stories to be told inside this house than just the most obvious one, and leave it at that.
Gone Home is a wondrously enjoyable experience, and one that has paved the way for videogames to be taken much more seriously as unique artistic endeavours. As a game of systems and goal-setting it’s serviceable, but as a piece of interactive storytelling told through the medium of gaming, it’s nigh-unparalleled.
This review is based on a retail copy of the Mac OS version of Gone Home by The Fullbright Company, distributed by The Fullbright Company.
- Phenomenal Story
- Unique Environments
- Spotty, Uneven Textures
- Very Short