Originally published on Trevor Trove on January 13, 2016
TL; DR(eview) – Gone Home tells a short and beautiful tale through its environmental story-telling and narrated journal entries as you explore the Greenbriar house late one night in June, 1995.
When I first played Gone Home on PC a couple of years ago, I didn’t know what to expect. Like many, I heard that the game was great but best if you didn’t know anything going into it. So I’ll speak in generalities to describe my own experience. Back then, I was playing through the game, picking up and examining objects and reading through the various notes strewn about as I explored this seemingly empty house.
Here’s the thing: I’m a big old coward who hates being startled with stuff like jump scares. I never watch horror movies and I remember going on the Jurassic Park water ride at Universal Studios when I was younger and keeping my eyes shut pretty much the entire ride. So playing this game late one night in my tiny studio apartment was not the best idea for me. As I slowly explored room after room in the dimly lit house, I was increasingly concerned that something was going to pop at me around the next corner. Despite finding an invoice in the game explaining the flickering lights as bad electrical wiring, I was convinced something bad was in store for me. The tension grew and grew until finally, exploring some hidden nook, a light bulb overhead popped as it burnt out overhead, I screamed, and turned off the game, leaving it behind as a testament to my cowardice and a fun anecdote to tell whenever somebody told me I should play P.T., Until Dawn, etc.
As the years passed, I continued to hear about the game in spoiler-free terms echoing what I had experienced: “I started the game thinking it was a survival horror game…” but then they would follow it up with, “…but that’s not what it was about.” So that end bit convinced me that I could give it another shot now that it has come to console. I could’ve played it on Steam but I’m in desperate need of a new computer (he wrote from his work laptop).
So I played through the game last night before bed. As it turned out, I had gotten pretty far through the story that last time and most of the story came back to me. At the core of Gone Home, you are playing as Kaitlin Greenbriar on her first night home from a trip to Europe and when she arrives, her family is nowhere to be found. The Fullbright Company wisely sets the game back in 1995, a time before everyone was just a cell phone call away and people mailed physical letters and postcards to one another as a primary form of long-distance communication. Cassette tapes, Super Nintendo cartridges, and 3-ring binders litter the house to fuel the mid-90s nostalgia.
The central backstory that you discover by exploring the house provides a wealth of insight on the members of this family, despite being able to explore everything within a few hours (there’s even a trophy/achievement awarded for “completing” the game in less than a minute). Without going into details, I’ll admit it the story and themes addressed were not overly new to me compared to the plays I’ve seen or read, but it was still great to see a story like this told in the medium of video games. Here’s hoping we see many more in the years to come.
Gone Home is available now on Steam, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One.