Written by Pete Gallagher.
The phrase ‘quality over quantity’ is highly appropriate here. While it lasts, Gone Home is an engrossing, unique first person experience that had me totally hooked, for about two hours. When the end credits rolled, I sat there dumbstruck that it was already all over.
Gone Home has been around on PC since 2013 and attracted rave reviews. So when it finally surfaced on PS4, I wanted to see just how well it stood up after such a gap in time. The answer, I am happy to say is remarkably well. This is due in large part to the extremely original approach in telling its narrative and the palpable sense of realism that few games since have captured. Gone Home is still as great to play in 2016 as I am guessing it was on PC in 2013.
The set up is extremely simple, you play Katie, a girl who has been backpacking around the world for a year and on returning home, finds her house empty and family missing. Where have they all gone? It is this simple question that powers the rest of the experience, and for the sake of spoilers I am not going to get into the story itself. The story is communicated completely through the environment and the various notes, books and tapes that have been left around the house for you to read, helping to form a fuller picture of your family members and what has happened in the year you’ve been away. What makes Gone Home masterful, is you get to know all Katie’s family members, their pasts, their personalities, their dreams and failed aspirations and yet you never actually meet them. This is a huge achievement, not just in videogame storytelling, but character building too. Gone Home’s characters feel real and the story is immediately relatable.
Another great aspect is how it uses the 90s setting to its advantage. The references to Street Fighter 2 and the various tapes you can find and play really help keep it in its time and place. As someone who was a 90s kid it really took me back and helped to make the experience feel truly real and rooted in reality.
The immense freedom and lack of handholding is so refreshing. I started off picking up and examining everything I could for fear I would miss some vital clue, before realising I this was generally optional. There’s plenty of scope to examine everything, not because you have to, but simply because you can – this is what makes Gone Home feel more real than other games. There is a genuine feeling of discovery and choice here that few games manage to achieve. It’s easy to see how this game has inspired others. I was reminded particularly of Life Is Strange as the story evolved. However this did not tarnish the experience for me.
The graphics are fine, nothing to write home about, but they serve the purpose well enough, and there were no drops in frame rate or slowdown. The game excels not in how it looks but it how it uses its different elements to create a lonely and, at times, almost haunting mood. The sound design too is superb, with the persistent silence and lack of a soundtrack often putting me on edge.
Yet the experience was woefully short. I understand this is an experimental indie game, but for £15.99 I certainly felt shortchanged. What’s more disappointing is the lack of replay value or extras. Replay ‘incentives’ include speedruns and finding all the diary entries, but only Trophy hunters will really bother to return.
- Absorbing narrative approach
- Refreshing lack of handholding
- A smooth port of the original
- So very short
- £15.99 is a bit steep
- Little replay value
The Short Version: At £15.99 on PS4, I’m scoring Gone Home lower than it deserves. It’s certainly worth checking out if you love interactive drama games like Walking Dead or Life Is Strange, but some may want to wait for a lower price. Or dive in now; just be aware of what you’re paying for as the game is the very definition of quality over quantity.
Platforms: PS4 (reviewed) | Xbox One
Developers: the Fullbright Company