Gone Home (2013)
Updated: Jan 7, 2020
Gone Home has been out for 5 years now, but was only released on the Switch this year, where I had a chance to finally play it. I don't care much for the term "walking simulator", so I'll call Gone Home a first-person mystery exploration game. You play as a young woman who comes home from a study abroad trip to an empty house on a stormy night and tries to pick up hints of what has happened at home in your time away. It's a huge house and there's small details to be found everywhere. Almost every time can be picked up and many can be interacted with.
There's two types of people in this world: people who pick up items in this game and then put them back in the same place, and people who pick up items and literally toss them anywhere but the place where they where before. Sorry to make some of you very uncomfortable, but I am the latter. As much as I loved to explore every detail and every item in the house, I enjoyed even more making a virtual mess. I loved the freedom this game gave you to waste as much time and do as much nonsense as you wanted. There was one bathroom where I took the time to dump every item on the floor.
Whether or not you're one to throw caution (or toiletries) to the wind, however, it's worthwhile to actually pick up and inspect every single item. The attention to detail in this game is one of my favorite qualities about it. The game succeeds in making you feel like this is a real house, with real people - really in the the 90's. As a 90's kid myself, many of these details teleported me back to my childhood. (Oh, except for the part that these people live in a GIANT house. Is it just me, or is that a ridiculous amount of space for one family?) The only word to describe the notes you would find written by your sister is "believable". These scribbles of two kids in school really don't look too different from the notes I would pass to my friends during a boring English class. Reading them, I felt a combination of shame for intruding on someone's privacy and a sense of joy knowing that they experienced school in a similar way as I did.
Gone Home does feel like a horror or suspense game at times, but I wouldn't call it that. If you stay away from games with jump scares or horror, I'd say this game is safe for you. There were many times were I was on the edge of my seat and afraid to take another step, so I'd definitely say it's suspenseful - but not horror. I won't say much more than that in fear of spoiling it.
I was worried at first that playing a game like this wouldn't work well on the Switch, since it would involve mostly point and clicking. However, the Switch controller was well adapted for this game, I didn't have too much trouble moving the assigned cursor around to select specific items. I'm sure it'd still be smoother on a computer, as the cursor on the Switch is a tiny white dot and can get lost at times, but it was definitely better than I expected.
Overall, it's hard to find anything major wrong with this game. It is a short game, and even shorter if you don't take the time to really engage with the whole house and have a little fun, which you should. It wouldn't be very realistic if it took a lot longer, though. My one small critique would be that certain things you discover in this game about the characters feel a bit "unfulfilled". You might've expected that some of these strings would tie up in the conclusion, but they don't. It's not a big problem, because in the end, it's just finding the pieces of someone's life, so sometimes you don't get the full answers anyway.
I was surprised to see that this game has very mixed reviews on Steam. Many of them complain about the ending. I will continue further in the spoiler section about why I disagree with that critique, but I won't ruin it for those who have not played.
I recommend this game because it's an easy game for anyone to try, and it'll surprise you with a heartwarming and honest story. It'll keep you curious the whole way, but also make every step truly fun and free.
Gone Home is available on Nintendo Switch, Xbox One, Playstation 4, PC, and Mac.
Played on: Nintendo Switch
Playtime: 4 hrs
How I heard about this game: Recommendation, and then won a raffle for a free game code on Twitter
WARNING: SPOILERS FOR GONE HOME BELOW THIS LINE
Even though when this game was recommended to me, I was told it wouldn't actually be scary, it didn't stop me from being spooked and feeling that there was definitely going to be something horrible popping out at me. I think the infamous moment in this game where (most) people jump is when the light goes out. It's innocent enough, but at that point, I was convinced "Okay, this is it, I'm gonna get killed right now". Thankfully, I was wrong. I cycled between thinking "everything is fine here, they're probably just out of the house" and "everyone has died and you are about to too". Just when I was thinking everything was most likely fine, I stumbled across the room picture below.
That immediately flipped me to, "yes um they definitely summoned a demon and some shit went down". Clearly it's just teenagers doing dumb teenager things, but the game really succeeded in throwing me completely off with that one.
As I mentioned before, it bothers me that people rated the game badly for the ending. I, for one, was actually really glad that nobody was dead and your sister was out chasing love (and your parents were rekindling their marriage). I guess many people wanted the ending to reveal a much darker fate. It's hard for me to relate to that, as your journey through the house had already led you to feel strong support and empathy for these characters. I think a "happy ending" in general is often undervalued and seen as less "mature", but I personally felt fulfilled by such a conclusion, especially because it still wasn't a perfect ending for the characters. There's so few LGBTQ stories being told in games, and I love Gone Home for being one of the first to do so. I'm sure many of the negative reviews stemmed from this break from the norm, but I hope this type of story-telling will continue.