Gone Home review
The Good:

A realistic, engrossing story that’s beautifully told through environmental clues and audio narration. From the spot-on writing to the authentic setting to the masterful story structure and pacing, this is interactive narrative at its best.

The Bad:

Control issues could be slightly problematic for some; emphasis on exploration over puzzles will disappoint anyone expecting a traditional adventure.

Our Verdict:

Gone Home does only one thing but does it superbly, telling a touching story solely through exploration that makes it well worth experiencing.

On May 15, 1995, I learned a life lesson in disappointment. I was a high school junior, skipping an afternoon class to go out for lunch with my best friend. Someone had left behind a Boston Globe on the table and we flipped through it to the entertainment section to read that My So-Called Life—a TV show we loved to the point of obsession—had been cancelled. A few months earlier, when this unflinchingly realistic portrayal of high school life was pulled from primetime after only 19 episodes, we had written letters to the network and circulated a petition around school that picked up a few hundred signatures. (We weren’t that crazy; teens were doing the same all over the country.) But in the end, network executives decided that the American viewing audience just wasn’t that interested in a real, raw look at the secret lives of teenagers.

Gone Home, an indie production from the four-person team at The Fullbright Company, is not a retelling of My So-Called Life, but I have to think the developers were fans. Set in June 1995, Gone Home is a story game that peeks into the interrupted lives of a Portland-area nuclear family, the Greenbriars, who seem to have vanished from their house in a hurry. As you piece together the mystery of their disappearance, the game addresses many of the same real-life issues MSCL so deftly explored: the frustration and isolation of being seventeen, the confusing pangs of first love, and even “grown up” problems like keeping a marriage alive when both parents have drifted apart, all through an LGBT lens that never would have been okay on network television two decades ago. Gone Home tells a story that feels true as you discover it, one that anyone who grew up in the '90s (and, really, anyone who’s ever been a teenager) will relate to in some way.

Without giving away the nuances that make it so compelling and touching, Gone Home’s basic story is this: Katie Greenbriar, a high school graduate who’s just spent a year backpacking in Europe, returns home after midnight to find her family’s house locked up and apparently empty. An ominous note left by her younger sister, Sam, suggests that something bad has happened and implores Katie not to go looking for answers. Upon entering the house, you soon learn that the Greenbriar family moved here the previous autumn, and you'll begin to uncover notes, receipts, newspaper clippings, and other items “just lying around” that fill in the blanks about the ten months they’ve lived here.

In Gone Home, you don’t solve puzzles. There are no action sequences, no dialogues between characters, no use-this-on-that inventory, no cutscenes. This game’s sole pastime is exploration. You start at the threshold of a huge, empty house and by the time you’ve moved through all of its rooms, you’ll understand the lives of the people who lived here, what happened to them, and where they’ve gone. Because Katie embarked on her trip before the move, she’s never been in this house, so she and the player discover each room together for the first time. But because Katie’s a member of this family, she has full permission to go wherever she wants, read notes left behind, and rifle through dresser drawers. It’s a smart setup that resolves the usual adventure game conceit in which players are expected to embrace being a voyeur, a kleptomaniac, and a stranger without a past.

The exploration-only gameplay may sound passive, but it doesn’t feel that way, because you’re the person initiating the search. Gone Home is largely non-linear and you explore the roughly 25-room house at your own pace, deciding which rooms to enter, which lights to turn on, which drawers to open. Much of the story is told through the environment and the objects you discover, with a basic timeline established through the dates on scribbled notes, discarded school papers, and snail mail. Some items you obviously need to find before the story can progress, but there are actually very few of these. Most of what you do is “optional”, meaning you could finish the game without it, but these optional discoveries have a cumulative effect and the designers have done such a good job of making you care about the characters that you’ll want to keep looking. Interestingly, as I got closer to the big reveal at the end, I became even more meticulous and thorough in my exploration. The more I knew, the more I wanted to know.

Katie and Sam are only three years apart in age, and Fullbright has done a convincing job portraying their relationship as sisters and confidantes. Even though Katie’s alone in the house, Sam communicates with her via audio diaries that narrate key events of the past year. These break the fourth wall, with Sam’s disembodied voice triggered by the discovery of certain objects, but the writing is so good and the story so well told that I had no problem suspending disbelief. Anyone distracted by the diaries’ lack of realism in this otherwise true-to-life game can turn them off in a “modifiers” menu available at the start of a new game, but I don’t know why you’d want to. Sam’s audio diaries are the crux of Gone Home’s story, introducing a conscientious teen coping with the turmoil of adolescence in a very real way and presenting a strong bond between sisters, even if we only ever hear one side of it.

Beyond Sam's occasional voiceover, Gone Home is a quiet game with an unobtrusive soundtrack and ambient audio that supports the realism. Your exploration is accompanied by subtle mood music that's often drowned out by the thunder and rain beating outside the house, but this ramps up during the audio diaries to suit the emotions Sam is reliving. Then there’s licensed music that you have access to throughout the game—tracks from real “riot grrrl” bands Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile, which you can listen to by inserting tapes into cassette players around the house. This is the music Sam listens to: loud and angry, it’s the perfect representation of her pent-up angst. It’s also appropriate to the time period (the riot grrrl movement was central to the Portland music scene in the early '90s) and it has contextual ties back to the plot. You don’t have to hear it at all if you choose not to, but popping in those tapes gives a little more insight into Sam’s life, and it’s this sort of carefully placed detail that makes the game so believable. I did experience a couple of crashes that seemed related to playing these tapes, however, so I urge players to save the game first just in case (a process that, unfortunately, requires quitting to the main menu and reloading).

Continued on the next page...



AD Gone Home can be purchased at:
GOG   • Amazon  

Game Info

Gone Home

Platform:
Mac, PC, Linux

Genre:
Mystery

Developer:
The Fullbright Company


Game Page »

Digital August 15 2013 The Fullbright Company

Where To Buy

Gone Home

Available on the

Get it DRM-free at (Mac)

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User Score

Average based on 37 ratings

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User Reviews

Posted by thorn969 on May 12, 2014

Felt too small and linear

Given the reviews, I was expecting much more from this game. By the end, it felt more like a series of tasks I needed to complete to finish... Read the review »

Posted by Fma42081 on Aug 31, 2013

Gone Home

Just Finished Playing Gone Home In One sitting, Since adventure games are my favorite genre I thought i would check it out, I Thought i had... Read the review »

Posted by Devilfish on Aug 25, 2013
I cannot recommend this game highly enough. For fans of story-based exploration games and excellently paced character development, Gone Home... Read the review »



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About the Author
fov's avatar
Emily Morganti
Staff Writer

Comments

David Mouse
Aug 16, 2013

Amen. You and I seem to have similar taste in games, Ms. Morganti.

SamuelGordon SamuelGordon
Aug 16, 2013

God i’ve been waiting for this game, can’t wait to play it!!:) great review

tsa tsa
Aug 17, 2013

What a great review.

domith88
Aug 18, 2013

This game captivated me like no other.  The buildup towards the end was so well done.  This was the first time a video game has ever made me shed a tear in my 20 some odd years of gaming.  I was a mess at the end and I was not even sure why, sort of hit me out of left field all at once.  Amazing.

PadanFain
Aug 18, 2013

Awww…
Too bad the story is totally predictable. Only the ending was somewhat unexpectedly uplifting.
But the game itself. The story. Everything about it. It’s absolutely nothing special. Completely, utterly, nothing special.

Cheshire Cat Cheshire Cat
Aug 18, 2013

I wish there were more games like this with emphasis on exploration. However, I agree with PadanFain that the game itself is nothing special and that the story is predictable right from the beginning (although it is very well told). All in all, a solid game, but without the wow factor, which I expected after reading all the raving reviews on various sites.

Frogacuda Frogacuda
Aug 21, 2013

PadanFain is correct that the story itself, if told in a linear fashion, is pretty straightforward and predictable (if mostly by virtue of its realism), but the way its told through the prism of a concerned family member makes you feel an attachment to it that you wouldn’t otherwise. It also feels less predictable by virtue of the entire game being a big sort of midirection by masquerading as a horror game.

When video games imitate other narrative media, they often feel compromised in their ability to tell stories, but I feel that Gone Home actually tells its story more effectively by embracing the strengths of games and the ability to make a player feel invested.

small dickie small dickie
Aug 24, 2013

“And in an industry that largely dismisses women’s stories and perspectives”

Oh come on! Geez! Another great article for a great game partly ruined in the end with a futile, untrue and almost stupid remark. Last time was the inexistent racism, now its the inexistent misogyny.  Sad.

Jackal Jackal
Aug 24, 2013

You were just plain wrong the first time, small dickie, but you’ve outdone yourself this time. Pretending the games industry isn’t hugely male-oriented is absurd.

PadanFain
Aug 24, 2013

The ONLY reason this game is receiving high marks from critics all over the place is exactly because of the nature of the story. Had this been a normal love story, then the game would have had a much more lukewarm reception, even though it would have been exactly the same game.

As it stands right now, it’s like a bait for game critics (which have become something akin to movie critics) telling them: “Play this. It fits your idea of ‘provocative’. You will feel more distinguished and special by ‘embracing’ the idea within.” This is all bogus, of course. It causes the critic to artificially inflate everything about the game, for the sake of rationalisation.

Unfortunately, that means the game is judged by completely wrong merits. In the end, a game is good (great) if it is timeless. If it can be played at any time and any place in the world, and still does what it set out to do. If it is trying to be ‘hip’ and ‘provocative’ and ‘in-the-times,’ then it fails, if in no other way but by sheer self-consciousness.

I have nothing against the theme of this game, in fact it’s like the beginning of one of my fantasies Grin But I will definitely not be as shallow as to judge the entire game based on that one, insignificant, fact.

Jackal Jackal
Aug 24, 2013

Sorry, but it’s nothing but arrogance to think you speak for ANY critic, let alone ALL of them. And not a word of what you said jives at all with anything in this review.

PadanFain
Aug 24, 2013

Sorry Jackal, but I have grown to notice the trend of recent reviews, and I notice things like that. It is present in the structure of the review, in the wording, in hyperbole used and overanalysis of detail. You can usually notice when someone is trying to rationalize their decision, and someone who genuinely feels about the game.
The fact that you do not notice those things is not my problem.

Jackal Jackal
Aug 24, 2013

No, you assume things like that (or more plainly, you see what you want to see). Entirely your prerogative, but you don’t have a clue what other people think. Certainly not in this case.

small dickie small dickie
Aug 24, 2013

Jackal please take a while and try not to be so defensive. I ask you to think more deeply at my comments. The game industry and more specifically the advneture games industry is full of games with female characters or games with stories that are centered aroud female characters. The authors remark is just so cheap and without any reason. The whole article was great but that single remark was so out of context and reason. The good stories and the good games are loved and well received regardless of the gender of the characters or the subject of the game. Its simple. Its just has to be a great game and a great story. Its so simple to understand. Try not to be so argumentative and defensive in your comments. And also try not to attack the users (like me) without any logic or foundation.

Jackal Jackal
Aug 24, 2013

Such a wonderfully insular word: “defensive”. It so conveniently deflects any rebuttal, regardless of its validity, purpose, and even necessity. But since I’m not deterred by such rhetoric, and you’re damn right I’ll defend my reviewers from unwarranted cheap shots, here’s the next “defensive” response:

So far you’ve blatantly misrepresented what one reviewer said (then felt the need to do so again, completely out of context), and then made an overtly aggressive remark about a second review with absolutely no support for your claim whatsoever. “Futile, untrue, and almost stupid” are utter BS no matter what your reasoning.

You’ve at least tried to justify your claim this time, which is better. Though it’s still wrong. I’m very well aware of how many female characters there are in adventure games, or how many games there are “about” female characters. So is Emily. But once again, that is not what “women’s stories and perspectives” means. Maybe you should be trying harder to understand the reviewers before jumping to conclusions.

fov fov
Aug 24, 2013

I can only speak for me personally, of course, but here’s my take on the two issues that have been brought up today (the game industry being male-oriented and the idea that GH’s story is only being praised because it’s not a “normal” love story). Also: warning, potential light spoilers below.

I am a woman who works in the game industry. In my experience, speaking as the former employee of a game developer, as a freelancer who consults with a number of studios on a daily basis, and as a player of many, many games over the years (adventures and otherwise), I see an industry that’s extremely male-oriented. That’s not to say it’s intrinsically sexist or that every man in the game industry is a misogynist or anything like that—obviously that’s not the case. I’ve worked with many cool, open-minded people in the 9+ years I’ve been involved in the game industry, and it’s simply a fact that most of them have been men. It’s a fact that I’m usually the only woman in the room. And it’s a fact that most game designers are men, and these men come up with ideas that appeal to them (because, oddly enough, you need a designer who’s excited about the subject matter to make a good game). Incidentally, Gone Home’s designer is a straight man, and he did an incredible job on this game. But the fact remains that most games are not made with women in mind, they’re made by men with men in mind and women are expected to like it or go home. The existence of a female protagonist doesn’t automatically mean it’s a story or gameplay that women will connect with. It may be hard to see that when you’re on the other side of the fence, I completely understand that. But just because you can’t see something doesn’t mean it’s not there.

I’m also a writer with a particular interest in stories about teen girls. I wrote a young adult novel set in 1996, a coming of age story that didn’t have a single gay character in it. Some of my favorite books, TV shows, and movies are “normal” stories of girl-meets-boy teen love. (Oh, and I’m straight.) None of this has anything to do with Gone Home itself, and my pastimes aren’t appropriate fodder for a review (an entire paragraph about My So-Called Life may even have been stretching it!), but I’m explaining this here to give some additional background about my personal preferences for anyone who doubts that I understand what it was about Gone Home’s story that made it so powerful for me. The LGBT element of this story is great and I was glad to see it, but *for me* that part of it was gravy. It’s silly to get into hypotheticals because Gone Home is what it is and my review is based on my experience playing it, not my experience playing some other hypothetical game that didn’t get made. But I can say with confidence that if Gone Home had been a story about a straight teen girl falling in love—or a story about a teen girl in some other context entirely—as long as the story was still told with the amount of care and detail and authenticity that this story was, I most likely would have loved it just as much.

So - my connection to this game comes largely from the “teen girl in the 90s” aspect (which I went out of my way to establish in the review) and, as a writer and an admirer of well-crafted stories, from the “telling a story in unique ways” aspect. Of course some other critics felt strongly about it because they’re gay and they could relate to Sam’s journey on a personal level. Some people might have particularly liked it because of the atmosphere or because they have a preference for first-person games set in big empty houses. What difference does it make? A lot of people felt strongly about the story for various reasons, and their feelings are reflected in their reviews. That’s the point of a review—to say what we liked or didn’t like and do our best to explain why, so the reader can use that feedback to decide if they want to play it, too.

In both of these cases, I feel like the root of the complaint is “So many people are saying this thing that’s just not true!” But if so many people are saying it, it *has* to have some truth to it. Reviewers don’t just make things up to piss off or mislead their readers. Women who feel marginalized in the game industry shouldn’t have to grin and bear it. And people (gay or not) who are excited to finally play a game that tells a story that feels true to them shouldn’t have to swallow their praise out of consideration for the straight majority.

small dickie small dickie
Aug 25, 2013

” they’re made by men with men in mind and women are expected to like it or go home.”“

i find it appaling that a reviewer on this website (a site which i greatly admire, respect and follow for many years) can say such a phrase. this phrase reaks of gender frustration. not only makes it hard for me to apreciate any article written by this author but it also changes my whole admirative impression i had for this website. and jackals comments also contribute to this. jackals comments that are totally void of patience, void of any hope for dialog and reasoning. but hey, no problem, i will still follow this website with a passion, because adventure games and this site are part of my life. i just found out that some people working for one of my favourite website are not worth bothering with comments and discussions. i really dont not think anything useful can come up from discusing with people that have such opinions or attitude. anyhow cheers and i hope you will do a great job for many years to come. a disapointed follower that will continue to read this website. disappointments are part of life but surely i never expected this

Jackal Jackal
Aug 25, 2013

Your comment wasn’t remotely seeking “dialog” no matter how you try to spin yourself as the victim now. Nevertheless, Emily was gracious enough to provide it in far more detail than was warranted. If the answers don’t suit your personal agenda, oh well.

And that’ll be the end of that.

fov fov
Aug 25, 2013

“i really dont not think anything useful can come up from discusing with people that have such opinions or attitude.”

In other words, you’re dismissing my perspective. How (almost) stupid of me for being frustrated. Wink

Jackal Jackal
Aug 25, 2013

Well, geez, Emily, what would YOU know about women’s perspectives and the games industry? Pfft. Grin

But seriously. Moving on now.

Devilfish Devilfish
Aug 25, 2013

Emily, thank you. As a lifelong female gamer and industry hopeful, I’ve run into the barriers you describe time and time again. Thank you for your perspective. Your experiences mirror mine, and should be shared and understood.

It’s part of the reason I like this game so very, very much. Gaming is a huge part of my life, and while there aren’t many games I don’t enjoy, it’s a relief and a joy to play a game that treats women, teens and LGBT people in such a heartfelt and respectful way. I would like to see more of these.

Percival
Aug 25, 2013

I actually created an account so I could respond to this…

Emily I think has been far too restrained in her measured response following her thoughtful review, as Dickie’s remark smacks of misogyny pure and simple. We live in a deeply unequal society in which sexism and other prejudices are structural features, and these sadly leave their mark on every kind of cultural product.

It is so painfully self-evident that the male-dominated computer-game industry is particularly shaped by male preconceptions and experiences that it’s hardly worth responding to. The quality and incidence of female characters in games actually confirms this… I don’t think controlling a woman with fantasty-sized breasts dreamt up by a male-designer with one eye on his porn mags is much of step forward for gender equality myself…

‘this phrase reaks of gender frustration.’

The only think that reeks of ‘gender frustration’ (?) is the angry, irrational response of a man in denial who appears so insecure that he can’t bear to read the most uncontroversial statement on gender in games, without condemning the whole article and its author. That’s ‘appaling’.

* * *

It’s a real step forward for a game to reflect the experience of other viewpoints - gender, sexuality, etc… (and these things *are* important in their own right) so I wish the game every success.

domith88
Aug 25, 2013

Jackal and Fov +1 ... I am not even sure what the argument is here.. I guess this game splits fans mindsets in real life as well.  I totally see what Jackal and Fov are getting at, it all is perfectly clear and I feel the rest are grabbing loose ends and trying to run with it?  I just don’t really understand how the last sentence of the review was even wrong, its a fact.. why would this upset anyone?  Its the truth that the industry “largely dismisses women’s stories and perspectives”.. I see no harm in that at all and am a lifelong male gamer..

fov fov
Aug 25, 2013

Thanks - very nice to hear these perspectives. Smile

dariyan
Aug 31, 2013

ok well heres my 2 cents- my questions to u guys is hwy did this game capture our attention originally by putting this in a house where someone was murdered? And all the secret places in the house and the stormy situation outside and the conclusion of not knowing what happened- this game at the beginning makes u think it will be a horror game until u first read a journal entry, If this was a Hollywood movie it would have died at the box office. So why do video games get a free pass- not taking away from the story (which was quite good) but even the games views are outdated. I understand however that it was supposed to take place in the 90s but now this stuff is now common place- why be nostalgic about something so depressing? Is it to remind us of it? A never forget attitude? These developers left 2k to go make this game. not because they felt ostracized, but because they wanted to send a message maybe? But guys it seems like u were trying to be a dear esther, and im sorry it didnt quite measure up- however i do think its a great game but it has no replay value - once u have played it through its done for u - it will stick with u for a while that much is certain, but so will dear esther and maybe even miasmata and amnesia. But they could have taken the murder house and the pentagrams and the all the other stuff and people still woulda been hooked,  it all seems very inspired but unfocused. and at the end the reward is a cliffhanger. This could have been a visual novel as well. still after all my complaining got to say evry well acted decent graphics and a great albeit short storyline 7.5/10

Veovis
Sep 16, 2013

Bought and played this game yesterday in more or less one sitting. A fantastic piece of interactive storytelling, well worth 4,5 stars! Right up there with for example The Dark Eye.

Great review too. Thx.

ghettodoghammer
Nov 7, 2013

just played and come on! how could this overrated game get this many stars! it’s not worth paying more than 10 dollars for.

SFHM
Nov 9, 2013

This game is a “Twilight” of the gaming world.

That’s how bad/boring/cheesy it was.

marvio
Nov 12, 2013

Did I miss something? Seriously? Isn’t this the most cliched story of a teenager romance?
Given, I’m a 40 year old man, so I neither have the inclination nor the patience for this type of story, so, to be thorough I had my wife play the game, and guess what, she thought less of it than me!
Why do I even bother to post this? Well, I went out and spend my money based on the review of this website, and I have to tell you, I’ll be much more careful next time.
How can a grown adult listen to the ramblings of a 17 year old and not rolls his/her eyes; I don’t care if you’re straight gay, it’s all the same :“oh! the world doesn’t understand me”  “Down with the man!”  “This is the love of my life, and life is not worth living without it” ; Please give me a break, been there, done that.
Now, if you are a teen to VERY early 20’s this is the game for you, it’s very well made, and the story will grip you by the guts!

SFHM,
Right there with you brother, after writing all that, it’s what it comes down to: Boring teenage drivel

gamecareer
Nov 29, 2013

Isn’t it about time we as a human intelligence understand that a rating of any kind is utterly useless apart from the person giving the rating?

I mean I played this game and enjoyed it for a few hours, but will have forgotten it by tomorrow.

Other option is to introduce a user rating, where the ADVENTURE COMMUNITY collectively make up the rating.

Jackal Jackal
Nov 30, 2013

User ratings have existed here for ages now, and are prominently displayed on this very page.

Maruca
Jan 9, 2014

Tsa recommended this one to me. Thanks for this review, I will definitely play this game. Haven’t played games in years and want to get back into it. This kind of game play and story sounds like something I could like.

Devilfish Devilfish
Feb 9, 2014

Thank god we have a 40-year-old heterosexual man’s opinion on this game about female LGBT teens. It’s a rare perspective that’s often tragically ignored.

zane
Feb 9, 2014

2 hours of entertainment tops. I should have waited until it was on sale. To be honest about the story, its ultimately a rather drab typical love story. The best thing i can say about the game is that it does a good job of creating an atmosphere that makes you think and wonder about what could happen. Spoiler: not very much happens.



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