Gone Home: Review
I stumbled across GONE HOME while checking out the free games of the month available on PS+. Although my love for BIOSHOCK is legendary, I’m a huge fan of exploration video games, especially ones with a mystery component to them, so I decided to give this a chance. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this game, even though I completed it in one sitting.
GONE HOME takes place in Portland in 1995. You play as Kate, a 21-year old student who had just come back to Oregon after an extended backpacking trip in Europe. The game begins with Kate’s arrival home on a stormy evening, where she finds her family’s new home deserted. A note from her younger sister, Sam, is taped to the front door and it is foreboding: Sam pleads with Kate not to investigate what has happened. With this sense of dread, we enter the house and begin to explore.
The mansion is full of winding hallways, locked doors and pitch-black rooms. Once the lights are on, the sense of dread doesn’t dissipate as the rooms, often in disarray, give off a sense of life interrupted: a discarded soda can, Post-It notes, newspaper clippings, haphazardly unpacked boxes. As you sift through the minituae, reading discarded letters, crumpled up notes and hidden documents, you discover secrets about each member of your missing family and your new, notorious family home.
The story focuses heavily on Sam, a high school junior who is struggling to fit into her new school. She finds she is a social pariah because she lives in “the psycho house.” As you work your way through the mansion’s many rooms, you unlock audio journal entries from Sam that kick off her story from August 1994 to the present. Without giving away too much, GONE HOME presents a strong female-driven narrative that is lacking in most games. I was pleasantly surprised as the story began to unfold and I learned more about Sam. But make no mistake, there are lots of secrets to unlock here and not all of them are good.
For those with a heavy nostalgia for 90’s pop culture, the game is full of references: a movie stub for PULP FICTION; a TV listing for THE X-FILES; Magic Eye posters; STREET FIGHTER combos scribbled on a scrap of paper; magazine covers featuring Nirvana and Veruca Salt; a collage of 90’s starlets like Lara Flynn Boyle, Gillian Anderson and Jodie Foster. Throughout the mansion, amid discarded pizza boxes and Lisa Frank folders, you find playable mixtapes of riot grrrl bands such as Heavens to Betsy and Bratmobile.
Although I ran through the game in a few hours, GONE HOME is definitely worth savoring – if you can resist putting down your controller. The story and the house will definitely linger long after you complete the game.
GONE HOME is available for PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. It is currently available as a free download in June for PS+.