Gone Home Review: Where The Heart Is
Gone Home is the inaugural game from The Fullbright Company, a small team that is perhaps best known for their work on the hauntingly atmospheric Minerva’s Den expansion for Bioshock 2. With the creation of their own indie studio, The Fullbright Company set its sights on a more domestic setting to flex its prowess for creating environments that are just begging to be explored.
Enter: the Greenbriar mansion, Gone Home’s singular location. After catching a late cab from the airport, Katie Greenbriar has finally gone home after a year-long trek across Europe. Though since her family moved into a new mansion while she was abroad, it is more a home by default rather than a house she remembers. But when she arrives, instead of a warm welcome from her family, there is only a note from her younger sister attached to the front door.
“I’m sorry I can’t be there to see you, but it is impossible,” the note reads. And sure enough, once inside it is clear that she is gone. Her parents, too, are gone, leaving Katie alone in the unfamiliar manor to piece together clues from the past year and try to figure out where everybody went.
Gone Home: – PC [Reviewed], Mac, Linux
Developer: The Fullbright Company
Publisher: The Fullbright Company
Release Date: August 15, 2013
Steam Store: Gone Home
The conceit works, in large part because both Katie and I were stepping into the Greenbriar family’s creaky new home for the first time together. As I opened every door, turned on every light, and poured over the contents of every drawer it all felt completely consistent with a curious twenty-something trying to get her bearings in the mansion she was supposed to start calling home.
Gone Home is impressive for its commitment to building that sense of familiarity, despite the unfamiliar setting. Even when picking up an object, like a festive ceramic statue, instead of a simple prompt telling me to click the mouse I was greeted with the text “Good ol’ Christmas duck,” flashing across the screen. Katie’s contextual commentary, whether it be trying to remember the name of her sister’s favorite stuffed animal or finding her dad’s porn stash, effortlessly ensured that I saw the world through Katie’s eyes, along with all of the thoughts and familiar reminiscence that lens entails.
But perhaps the most brilliant and subtle point of immersion comes from a simple command: put back. Anything I picked up, I could look back where I found it and the “put back” prompt would show up, allowing me to neatly replace the item where it belonged. Of course, you can still throw objects anywhere you wish like an Elder Scrolls barbarian, but why would you do that in your own house? The atmosphere is so purely committed to its domestic suburban recreation that it’s hard not to get lost in it all, and I began treating the Greenbriar house as my own. As I became more familiar with the layout I even began turning off lights when leaving rooms, which is completely counterproductive to exploration but just felt right, somehow.