GONE HOME Review
GONE HOME was and still is a small revelation. The industry has gotten much better at making characters that are relatable, characters that have motivations that make sense, and personal stories that are emotional and affecting; something close to real people. You don’t have to look any further than THE WITCHER 3: WILD HUNT or LIFE IS STRANGE to see how dramatically character and plot has improved on large and small scales in the past year. And still these games lack the sensibility that GONE HOME has had from the very beginning. You don’t need to save the world to tell a good story. Sometimes the small personal moments, like going to a new school or falling in love, are enough. GONE HOME is indie film gone interactive.
Originally released in 2013, the indie darling is now being ported to modern consoles with the same charm and attention to detail intact. The story of GONE HOME: CONSOLE EDITION is a mystery, and to spoil its finer points would ruin some of the fun, but know that it’s a period piece, set in 1995, about a girl named Katie Greenbriar and a large empty house she comes home to after a semester abroad. The player controls Katie in first person, investigating the house, opening drawers, and turning over objects, looking for any hint as to why her family is missing. The narrative through line and primary reward for her search are audio recordings of Katie’s sister Sam explaining her new life in Oregon and what’s been going on while Katie was abroad. No other non-player characters appear and the only story is what the player can glean from these recordings and the objects that are left in the house.
The inherent eeriness of an empty room with the TV on will not be lost on you
GONE HOME is an exercise in simplicity, in design, and in storytelling. What stands out is its attention to detail and the personal and specific nature of the story it tells. This is a game that feels like it was made by people who have actually lived the lives of these two girls. They are intimately familiar with the period and the location of this story, giving it a tremendous sense of place. This personal touch goes a long way towards making the game unique and an experience that’s hard to find anywhere else.
For those who’ve played the game before on PC, the console edition offers not much new other than several hours of audio commentary and a slightly updated look (in the porting process the game’s engine was updated from Unity 4 to Unity 5). That being said, it plays buttery smooth, and while I miss the more tactile experience of keyboard and mouse, the controller works very well. For fans of the game, GONE HOME: CONSOLE EDITION is not a necessity (updated versions of the PC edition were released with the audio commentary), but for those who’ve never played before, GONE HOME: CONSOLE EDITION is a unique opportunity to play a morsel of video game history and see the kind of things video games should and can aspire to be.
The game also knows what’s most important about the 90s
Video games are a medium that is capable of telling bombastic stories of world-ending calamity and daring-do, yet just as able to tell the small and personal stories of our day-to-day life. It is a medium that realizes, every so often, that those two kinds of stories are one in the same. GONE HOME is a game everyone should experience at least once, and GONE HOME: CONSOLE EDITION will hopefully bring many more people into the fold.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4, also available on Xbox One and PC.