One bit of housekeeping to get out of the way before we get started: if you are interested in this game, STOP READING AND JUST GO PLAY IT. Go into it knowing as little as possible. Just dive right in.
With that out of the way, Gone Home can hardly be called a game. What it is, is an interactive story, and it nails that. The player begins the game with a brief phone message, played in the style often heard on answering machines in the mid-90s. Katie is arriving home to her family’s new home outside of Portland after a year away in Europe. The year is 1994, so there is no Facebook, no Skype, no way of communicating besides the very occasional phone call and the odd postcard. When Katie shows up to the front door in the late hours of the night, she finds a note from her younger sister Sam, and the game begins. While lightning, thunder, and wind batters the home, creating a tense and jumpy atmosphere, Katie must play detective and figure out what has happened to her family.
Gone Home is all about narrative. The entire 2-ish hours of the game takes place only inside the home, where the only thing for the player to do is discover clues as to what has happened with the family. Katie is completely alone in the home, during a harsh rainstorm, where signs of discord are prevalent throughout.
The beauty of Gone Home is the level of detail in what can be interacted with. For the most part, if you can see an object, you can pick it up, spin it around, examine every inch of it, and then put it somewhere else. The console controls are seamless and work very well with the nature of the game. It’s easy to piece together what has happened in the new house, as photographs, news clippings, still-packed boxes, and notes lay scattered everywhere.
The game excellently conveys the world of the 90s. It serves as a virtual time machine to my personal childhood home, with cordless phones, answering machines, notes from teachers, and notes from school. There is no texting, no emails, or anything of the sort. The old school tube TVs and newspapers, as well as the grungy Seattle music bring waves of nostalgia.
Everything has been designed to evoke emotion in Gone Home, from the environment, to the isolation, to the story, and it nails it to a T.
The biggest problem is the lack of player agency. The game can be completed in a single minute, and nothing the player does has any real consequence. There is no specific order of events required to play, which gives the player no feeling of good or bad. That aside, Gone Home doesn’t really need it. The player can find as much or as little of the story as they desire. My first time through, I discovered around 85% of the story, but was still very emotionally affected.