Though it’s not as unique now as it was when it first came out on PC in 2013, there’s still something undeniably special about Gone Home. What has come to be referred to by many as ‘a walking simulator,’ the point of Gone Home is to explore, get lost in the atmosphere, and to simply enjoy the amazingly well put together narrative. Put as bluntly as possible, that means Gone Home just is not a game for everyone. If you give yourself over to those simple goals however, there’s a lot to get out of it.
Before jumping into things though, it’s worth noting there have been a few improvements over the PC version of the game. Updating the graphics from Unity 4 to Unity 5 is absolutely noticeable as textures and lighting have improved across the board. The Console Edition also comes with an optional developers commentary track, much like what you would find on a movie, activated at specific points throughout the game.
While the graphics are a substantial step up and the commentary is certainly a bonus for anyone interested in such things, it likely just isn’t worth another purchase if you already own, and have played the game, on the PC. If you haven’t though, that is a very different story.
Over the course of the three hours I spent in a slow, methodical playthrough of reading and seeing everything I could, I was completely enveloped in the mid 90s household and the family at the core of Gone Home. The game opens with a voicemail detailing that the eldest Greenbriar daughter is finally coming home after a year abroad. What she finds however is a seemingly deserted house and a simple note from her sister asking her not to try to figure out what happened.
From there the story of a hauntingly real family unfolds as you explore the house and piece together the past year through the basic things everyone leaves laying around. Everything from mail to notes, magazines, half-read books, and abandoned trash, blend together to paint an outstandingly complete portrait of the Greenbriar family.
Tied together in a coherent narrative by occasional voice-over diaries from the player character’s younger sister, Gone Home delves into every member of the family. All of it is done so subtly however, nothing ever feels forced or unnatural, leading me to almost feel guilty as I uncovered embarrassing details about these fully realized people.
While all of this contributes to the undeniable draw of the game, what truly makes it stand out are the things you would never expect. In more ways than one, Gone Home is about subverting expectations and embracing the simple surprises of life. One moment I would be tensing up, walking through a dark hallway, a dim light flickering at the end as thunder shakes the house, and the next I would find a scrap of paper that would make me laugh out load.
As I said earlier, Gone Home is a game entirely built upon what you’re personally willing to give it. There is a central narrative to be found, but that’s only a fraction of what’s on offer. A sliver of information in one room may seem like just a well thought out piece of filler, but when combined with another sliver in the next room, suddenly it becomes, funny, touching, even heartbreaking.
Small considerations like that, when combined with the central narrative, the exquisite sound-design, strong voice work, and hilariously accurate atmosphere of a 90’s home, are what elevates Gone Home beyond the simple ‘walking simulator’ it may at first appear to be.
The one spot the game suffers sadly is connected to its translation from PC to console. Many of the notes and letters you find during your time in the game are hand written with unfortunately small handwriting. While such font size and messy writing worked on a computer screen, the transition to a television screen, substantially further away, makes more than a handful of the notes kind of a pain to read. That said however, it’s an ultimately small gripe, the graphical upgrade still making the console edition easily the best of the two.
Gone Home is an exceptional game, and a chief example of the narrative power a virtual world can have. I’ll never meet the Greenbriar family, but just with my time in Gone Home I feel like I know them just as intimately as many characters that have entire novels devoted to them. And even as mechanically simple as the game is, that emotional connection is exactly what any story, interactive or otherwise, strives for. In all honesty, there’s then little else I would ever ask for.