Game Pile: Gone Home

Gone Home is currently half price in the Steam sale, and if there is almost no good way to discuss this game without blowing some part of its inherent mystique apart. I can tell you that it’s a good, well-written indie game which is excellent at evoking an emotional reaction through some surprisingly mundane means, and its action can best be described as frantically trying to find the lightswitch, a sort of high-art-asset ‘find the pixel’ sort of game. It’s set in a house of ghosts and thunderstorms and has the yawning, dreadful power of hatred as an engineer of human action.

That description seems overwrought and silly, but it really is as good as I can do without spoiling something. If that sounds good, then go get it; it’s cheap and even if you’re unsure, the game deserves attention and regard just for doing several things in the videogame sphere that aren’t, conventionally seen by the kind of people who have Steam accounts. After the jump, we’re going to start talking about the game in more depth, but doing so is going to crack the shell of mystery surrounding the game. For a game of this type, I feel that expectations are important, and thus I’m trying to leave them intact. Therefore, anything more? After the jump.

They gone? Okay, great. See, Gone Home tries to sell itself with its deliberate vagueness as a sort of haunted-house horror story, but it’s also being praised by the likes of Anita Sarkeesian and Christine Love for its strong female protaganist and Aeevee Bree about how it ‘is so’ a game, despite claims otherwise. As I am always late to the party, I approached the game expecting a horror story (Which I tend to like) focusing on strong female protaganists (which I tend to like) in a nonviolent game that featured basically no puzzles (which… I really… don’t tend to like). Overall, I didn’t have much expectation about Gone Home that didn’t seem confused and lost amongst the other expectations.

What follows is an aesthetically exceptional find-the-object game, which is paced well, offers hidden opportunities, surprises, and attention to detail. That’s not all there is to say – there’s more indeed, but that more often will involve peeling back the layers of mystery around it. The game is designed to be deliberately mysterious – it basically defines itself by being obtuse. You’re given one screen of ‘tutorial’ and almost no help after that point. Because you’re under no pressure, things like the fiddliness of the controls can’t really slow you down, per se. Then, the game drops you in front of a locked door, and says ‘right, there’s your lot. Go hunting and find out what’s going on.’

It’s a gentle game; a game made with love; a game for your mum; a game with lesbians. It draws comparisons in my mind to Amnesia: The Dark Descent and yet not an unqualified comparison. Both games are exploration based and rely heavily on emotional connection. Amnesia wants you to feel threatened, but Gone Home wants you to feel sad.

Boy howdy did it make me feel sad.

Gone Home is a gentle, slow game which rewards you for exploration and does nothing to demand attention of you. It’s an exceptionally polished entry in a typically shallow genre, and its writing is clever, well-written, occasionally quite funny, almost always heartbreaking, and it is polished to a mirror shine. There’s no plus or minus column here, there’s no clear ‘this will turn you off the game,’ or ‘this will make you definitely want the game.’ It’s not that sort of game. There’s an irony in that one of the clues you find early on is a reviewer being told, by his editor, to tamp down on his emotional outpourings of sadness during a review. I think I’ll follow that advice and move on to just giving you the very simple, very brief verdict:

Verdict

I am glad I bought Gone Home.

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