When looking for a new game to get my teeth into, the exploration genre is one I often skipped past, having never really had an enjoyable experience within it. However it’s safe to say that upon playing Gone Home, my views have completely changed. Gone Home, a first person exploration adventure game, sucked me in from the start – I found it a privilege uncovering the Greenbriar’s family secrets hidden deep within this gorgeously presented mansion.
The game grabs you from the start, taking on the role of Kaitlin Greenbriar, the eldest daughter of the Greenbriar family. Upon returning from her travels around Europe, Kaitlin is greeted with a note from her younger sister, Samantha. This note instantly gives you the sense that all has not been well in her absence. Developers Fullbright (Midnight City for console edition) do a brilliant job of throwing you into the game, very little tutorial is needed and you soon get the realisation that there will be no tips aiding you through your journey.
Diving headfirst into your experience is definitely the best way to explore it. I will be giving very little away in regard to the story in this review – it was that sense of not knowing that helped the story come across with so much impact for me. Although in some aspect the story telling could be seen as a linear approach with locked rooms requiring you to take a set route through the mansion, you never feel like you’re being told where to go. I felt a little reward every time I discovered a new secret – like my efforts had real impact on the progression of the story! So much of the story is how you visually piece together what you’re seeing: it is down to your interpretation of what is acceptable and what is not.
The Greenbriar house, in which the game is set, is finished with beautiful precision meaning that you really get the feel you are in the time the game is set, the 90’s. Throughout the experience, you will find the family favourite VHS player, stacks of boardgames littering closets and iconic 90’s girl punk cassettes dotted around the house. I must say that the first time I played one of these cassettes I was a little taken back with the contrast of this loud aggressive modern punk breaking the eerie silence and drowning out the thunder outside, but it strangely works and to good effect. You can interact with almost every item or object you come across; the care and attention to detail put into them really helps you get the sense they belong to someone.
It is this attachment to a family member’s history that had me searching the house with a fine toothed comb to shed light on every secret the Greenbriar family was hiding in the dark.As you progress through the story, you unlock audio messages left by Samantha. These messages are effectively the driving force of the story; although audio logs providing back story are regularly used in modern gaming, I’ve never heard them delivered with such emotion – the voice acting truly is amazing. These messages also help to bring a sense of urgency as they progress – after hearing each one, I would regularly change my mind on how the story would end.
To enhance the story telling, there is an ever-present sense of fear created within the mansion – a raging thunderstorm sending light dancing through the window, creaking floorboards, the sounds of a century-old mansion echoing through the hallways. Although at times I was questioning where this fear was leading me, if this is a horror game, a sci-fi game, a survival game, but the only fear that escalates as you progress is the fear of what dark secret will next unfold before you.
With the abundance of interactive objects populated throughout the house, there comes a point when picking up the same book for the 4th time gets repetitive and this is the case with a few of the items you find on your journey. Also, the game is very short. My first play through took 3 hours – and that was with a lot of searching! Although for some people the short play time could be seen as a flaw, I felt the pacing, sense of discovery and well crafted story made each second of my 3 hour play through worth every penny. There has always been an argument for game pricing vs play time but honestly I don’t think that can apply here. Yes the game is short, but for me there was good reason to return to the mansion. The story had me so intrigued, I had to venture back into the Greenbriar residence to answer the unanswered questions I still had. I appreciate that continuously searching through a moody mansion for the smallest clue isn’t everyone’s idea of fun; but by not understanding the complete story, I felt I was doing both the game and the developers an injustice.
I can’t remember the last time I felt so much impact from finishing a game. The Greenbriar residence gave me a sense of being in house I could have grown up in, I felt part of the family. The excellent writing and impassioned voice acting helped me feel every emotional thorn as they came to light. Gone Home provided me with a beautiful mansion to explore – a mansion I will be definitely revisiting in the future.