I honestly did not think that I would ever be reviewing a game that I hated this much that also happened to be well received by the gaming community. Honestly I do not see how this game got any attention whatsoever, let alone being hailed as a key point in the evolution of gaming. If this is the direction that games are going to be heading then I may just start reading books instead. Gone Home is something that is so basic and primitive that it can barely even count as a game, yet it does not come close to having the artistic merit to be considered a movie or book. The story that the game is trying to tell is padded out across a four hour “game” that has no form of engaging gameplay and the four hours I spent with this game felt like the longest four hours of my life. There is genuinely nothing good I can think of saying as a serious praise. Gone Home is just a complete incomprehensible mess.
Gone Home is intended to be a unique take on games and tries to tell its story through its surroundings instead of with cutscenes or dialogue. It does not succeed in doing this because the entire story is told to you through recorded diary entries that play out of nowhere without any explanation or rightful reason. They just randomly play when you pick up a random object off the ground and oftentimes may not even relate to said object. There are several ways that this could have been handled that may have helped Gone Home have a better sense of immersion and atmosphere. Yes I am very aware of the concept of willing suspension of disbelief, but the reason I do not consider that a valid excuse here is because Gone Home is a game based entirely off of, and relies on, a sense of realism in order to get its atmosphere across. There were plenty of other ways the game could have handled this. They could have done so through written materials, which they technically did have but everything that was written added little to the plot and was so boring that I can barely even remember what it was.
Let me just clarify that I am a huge fan of both JRPGs and Visual Novels, both of which are generally 10 times longer than Gone Home, involve a lot of text, and I normally try and read everything I can with those games. However, even some of the most tedious, poorly written and lifeless games in those genres were not nearly as painfully dull as Gone Home, and that takes quite a bit when your game is only four hours long.
Most of the reading that you find lying around in Gone Home have nothing to do with the main storyline, and instead gives other complete random bits of information that are supposed to build up the world of this game but fail seeing as how they are so disjointed and random. One of these papers was and old school assignment for health class from one of the central characters who decided to do her assignment of describing the menstrual cycle in the form of an incredibly awkward novella. Despite being something that is too cringe-worthy to even be taken as a joke, this is played straight. It is just put there and is expected to somehow be a sign of a character’s back-story and is done without any sense of self awareness that would be necessary of something so ridiculous.
There are also dozens of plot points that are constantly brought up and never mentioned again. A few examples of these being mentions of the ghost of Oscar, the main character’s uncle who abused their father when they were younger, various electronic devices that have mysteriously gone missing, an electrician’s note about lights going out when certain areas of the floor have pressure put on them, the main character’s mother being born in Canada, and one of said mother’s colleagues having the same name as her husband’s father. All of these are brought up once and never mentioned again throughout the entirety of the game.
I have heard some say that these were meant to be red herrings, but I am not buying that excuse. A red herring is meant to intentionally mislead someone into believing a different conclusion than what is true. These plot points have nothing to do with the overarching plot and the only thing they mislead someone into believing is that the game will later address them. Those are unresolved plot points, not red herrings, and if they were intentionally put in then that does not mean the main plot is any better written. A red herring is something like telegraphing that the butler was the killer in a mystery novel, but having it actually be someone far less predictable. Gone Home simply builds up conflicts that are never mention again afterwards, which is just poor writing.
Lastly, the worst way that the game fails at telling its story is that its pacing is abysmal. As said before, I have spent four hours on the game, and I am willing to estimate that less than a quarter of that was spent advancing the main plot. The reason this is the case is not only due to how painfully slow the exploration segments are, which I have plenty to say about later, but because of how much the recording segments are spread out between them. You basically spend about ten to twenty minutes looking around the place for whatever object you need to find, which the game never tells you by the way, and then you get a recording segment that lasts about 1 minute. In any other game this would be appropriate pacing seeing as how there needs to be some time for gameplay, but the problem with doing this in Gone Home is that there is no gameplay in Gone Home. You are spending the entire game looking at objects with the idea of advancing the story, and you only end up advancing said story about 5% of the time. The fact that The Fullbright Company needed to pad out a story in a game that is already this short is pathetic.
However, what really takes the cake is that the story that this game is supposed to be telling is not even a good one. The basic story is that you play as Katie, who is wandering through a house looking through a bunch of papers that tell a story about her sister Sam’s lesbian relationship with another girl named Lonnie. There is never any reason given why Katie is the one who is reading about this story or what it has to do with the current setting. What you are provided with, despite being what is supposed to be a coming out story, instead sounds like a love story made in madlibs that would not have been changed if either of the two people involved were given a male name.
There is also never anything shown that indicates why this story needed to be told as a game. With games like To the Moon I was able to defend the decision for that being a game despite there not being any form of gameplay. The reason it worked in To the Moon and many other games is because the scenes still have the same impact when you see them firsthand that they would when shown in a movie or a book, and that the interaction gives you the feeling of being part of the story. In Gone Home, you cannot even see the events firsthand nor are you even in the same setting, and when you add that the script is basically nothing more than someone summarizing a generic love story, you realize that the entire script of this game would have worked better as a forum post than it would a game. A lot of people seem to criticize games nowadays for trying to focus more so on being cinematic and by claiming that they are movies and not games(rightfully so). Well if those games are nothing more than movies put on game disks, than that is still more than what Gone Home is. Gone Home does not even have enough story or depth to qualify as a movie, and the game itself does not have enough dialogue to be a book. What you end up with is something that is neither a game, a movie, or book; it is basically a forum post that is spread out across a four hour walking simulator.
The graphics in Gone Home are unpolished and look like what one would expect from a PS1 title. Now seeing as how this is an indie game, one cannot blame The Fullbright Company too much if the game did not look as good as most games by major studios, but the graphical quality itself is hardly the only problem. There is a complete absence of any animation while walking and you basically just teleport one foot at a time in the opposite direction whenever you are walking. What is also incredibly annoying is that the mouse icon has the exact same skip in animation whenever you move it, which means that the simple act of moving the mouse pointer over whatever small object you need to click on takes up way more time than it should. This control issue becomes a constant nuisance throughout the entirety of the game. The simple act of walking down a hall becomes a lot harder than it needs to be because turning the mouse changes the direction your character is facing and you move using either the directional or WASD keys, and it always takes up an obnoxious amount of time to turn in the right direction that you can go forward in, and there is no way to move at a diagonal rate.
Now I understand that this is a common control mechanism for PC FPS games, but in those games there usually is no frame skip when changing direction and that the precision of the controls serve as an advantage. In Gone Home, there is no reason for the game to use FPS controls. The game is designed in a way that would suit a point and click adventure game much more than an FPS. All of the time spent trying to adjust the angle your character is facing; the game would have taken half as long. There is no excuse for a flaw like this in a game that has such a huge emphasis on looking at small items.
Yet another unforgivable aspect of this game is its terrible lighting. Half of the time, the rooms are so dark that you can barely see your surroundings, which makes looking for objects even harder. Now obviously this is fixed by turning on the light switches, but considering how frustrating it is to get the cursor over the switch, it serves no purpose other than to waste the player’s time. Also this begs the question of what purpose these light switches even serve in the first place? Is it supposed to make the game more realistic at the expense of the game’s overall quality? I highly doubt that there would be anyone out there that liked this game that would have suddenly retracted their opinion if you didn’t need to waste time turning on the lights, but then again I honestly cannot see why someone would like this game to begin with so that may be a moot point.
(Note: The reason I had such difficulty with the controls when I first played the game was because my computer could not run the game well enough without terrible lag. I have recently tried to replay the game with a better computer and it runs a lot better, although the game itself was not any more enjoyable)
As for the game’s sound work, the sound effects are off and feel misplaced. For example, the footstep sound effects do not sync up well with Katie’s actual footsteps and there are so few sound effects in general that they seem to be placed randomly. The voice acting that was included is fairly decent for the most part. There is very little music in the game and what was featured were actually licensed Riot Girl songs from the 90s, which is the time period that this game takes place in so I guess that is a nice touch (even if the songs themselves were ass). I suppose the title theme is decent but it certainly is not memorable.
There is not much I can really say about gameplay seeing as how there, quite literally, is none with the exception of having to look around through random objects that tell you nothing of importance while dealing with bad controls. There is no risk, there is no objective, and it just consists of wandering aimlessly until you do what the game wants you to do. I have previously reviewed a game called The Plan, which was nothing more than a three minute fly simulator where you did nothing but hold the up button while some random events occurred until you reached the ending credits. That game is both a better game, and a better work of art than Gone Home. It is a better game because it at least controlled smoothly enough so that you were always able to move forward. It was a better work of art because at least the events were paced out properly and had something to do with the setting, and quite frankly, it is easier to find a hidden meaning from that game than it is from Gone Home.
If I had to sum up the entirety of Gone Home in one word, it would be “why?” I do not say this in order to make some hyperbolic statement about how this game is so bad that it is somehow offensive to existence, because it really is not. I say this because I legitimately do not see what the purpose of this game is. It surprises me that people actually spent time and money on creating what was essentially a game about nothing, when they could have spent time on trying to create something that at least tried to be good. I do not see what the intention of Gone Home was in any way. The purpose of the game was not to tell a story seeing as how little the game actually focused on the story, but it certainly was not focused on being fun because nothing happens.
It confuses me even more that people seem to legitimately think this game is some type of complex piece of art. Even the most negative review posted on GameFAQs at this time, next to mine that is, is still a lot nicer on the game than I would have been. Are we really so insecure about what outsiders think of the industry that we need to consider any game that tries to be “art” to be the Citizen Kane of gaming? Have some developers actually tricked industry veterans into believing that their creation is actually too smart for them and that saying something negative against it will just mean that they are not intelligent enough to “get it?” We have established a long time ago that games are capable of being art, and we have also established that games are capable of being good art, which Gone Home is not.
There have been dozens, if not hundreds, of games that have done something worthy of praise and of artistic merit before, almost all of them better than this. Gone Home is one of the worst games I have ever played, and I honestly did not think I would ever say that about any game with even remotely decent reception. However, there is at least an example of a game done in this style that I can say did it right. That game is called Serena. It is a game that is very similar in premise to Gone Home, with the exception that it has proper pacing, a story with actual emotional and artistic depth, a reason to actually be a game, and that it is free. For comparison, Gone Home costs $20.00 at full price. Considering that the $5.00 I paid for Gone Home while it was on sale was too high of a price, it goes without saying that I cannot recommend this game under any circumstance. Any art game out there would be a better choice than Gone Home, and while I cannot, and will not, say that it is one of the worst games out there, still does not change that it is bad nonetheless. Ultimately that just goes to show you that Gone Home should have stayed home.
I initially planned to rewrite this review entirely, but upon re-reading my old review I found that it was better than I remember and only with a few mistakes. The first was not realizing the game was lagging like shit due to my computer being a piece of crap at the time. I did try to replay it recently but the game is still unbearably tedious even with decent controls. The pacing is just abysmal and it gets immensely tedious walking around trying to find the next sequence trigger.
I also never mentioned that Gone Home’s main schtick was that it presented itself as if it was a horror game and pretty much sets itself up as one, only to subvert it by being about this boring romance schlock. The amusing thing about this is that it’s basically Doki Doki Literature Club! in reverse. Gone Home actually could have worked as a fairly effective horror title with the atmosphere it set up at the beginning. Hell it was originally an Amnesia mod if I recall correctly so that would be natural.
The difference between these two games is that Doki Doki Literature Club! was free to play. Dan Salvato specifically felt it was unethical to charge money for something that was basically false advertising. Gone Home on the other hand, is $20.00. When you also consider the fact that Doki Doki Literature Club! had more content overall, it really puts Gone Home into perspective.
I have heard plenty of people say that the only people who like Gone Home are pretentious game journalists and hipsters that don’t even like games. I can tell you straight up that this isn’t the case, and that there are some people who are serious gamers that do unironically think this game is a masterpiece, but it will be easier to convince me to detransition than it would be to get me to understand why and how people do.
What does this game even do to warrant any significant merit in the first place? Is it because of how it tells a story without cutscenes and instead through notes left behind? We’ve had that shit since the original Resident Evil, or Sweet Home if you want to go back even further; this ISN’T new! Oh, but it’s progressive in its portrayal of lesbians isn’t it? Fuck no, the portrayals in this game are heteronormative as fuck and they did not click with me in the slightest.
I remember that back when prior to transition when I was still a GamerGate fuckboy, I was convinced that most of the people who acted as if games were this cesspit of misogyny and prejudice have never touched a game made prior to the last five years. It constantly felt like these people heavily downplayed the medium of games as a whole despite the fact that the game industry has created some brilliant works of art over the course of almost forty years now. Granted, if one only paid attention to western AAA games then I wouldn’t blame them for getting that impression, but you have to wonder how serious someone is about the whole gaming thing if they can’t even bother to check any of the lesser known niches within the industry to find what they want.
While I am unsure of any specific examples of LGBT friendly games that were released prior to Gone Home that were released in the US, I am pretty certain that one could easily find them if they were to look. Even if there were none at all that would still not be enough for this game to pull its own weight. And to be clear, the reason for this is not that environmental narrative games cannot be good, it’s simply that Gone Home is not good. As a lesbian, I do immensely appreciate what Gone Home tried to accomplish, but I just cannot get into it.
This review was originally put up on GameFAQs on June 23rd of 2014, and has been re-edited with enhanced presentation.
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