Warning: spoilers for Gone Home: Console Edition are discussed.
Considering that Gone Home: Console Edition (The Fullbright Company, PS4) has only been in my PS4 library for a week (a nice inclusion on PlayStation Plus this month), it is sort of not really in my backlog. I include it because the original Gone Home has been in my PC backlog for a couple of years, so it counts. It is unfortunate that I waited so long to give it try considering it would take less than 2 hours out of my night and it was a game(?) that, despite some frustrations, I really enjoyed.
In brief: You walk through the game in disembodied first person view as Katie, who has just returned home in 1995 (pre-techonological saturation of our lives) after spending one year traveling across Europe. It is a dark and stormy night and Katie finds herself coming home to an empty house. Initial impressions lead you to assume that something untoward has happened to her younger sister Sam and their parents. Multiple TVs have been left on and there are several empty pizza boxes throughout the house among other things. Only by searching the house will you discover the clues as to what happened there.
I thought the mood was set very well with the persistent rain and thunder and lightning in addition to the creaking and settling of the house. Katie’s echoing footsteps help add to the sense of loneliness in the home. Rooms with intermittent lighting and the signs of a rushed departure gave off foreboding signals in such a big, imposing house. The house actually looked lived in, which is not always the case in games like this. It leads to you want to explore the nooks and crannies to see what all you can find. I liked being able to pick up or interact with virtually any item that you found. I was disappointed to find that very little of it actually pushed the story along. I was used to old school adventure games like Maniac Mansion where I could discover what happened if I tried to put objects in the microwave. No such deviant exploration here, but then again it would not serve the story. But it would have saved time by not picking up everything in hopes of finding something interesting. I could have gone for a few challenges in looking for certain clues or essential items, but it’s fairly minor in a game largely reliant on mood and story telling, which it excelled at.
Sometimes it leads to something humorous like finding one of your father’s adult, um, reading material (you can discover the same for your sister), to discovering a painting of a relatvie (and former owner of the house) with his face cut out. That painting and a number of other clues points toward a sad tale of sexual abuse that Katie’s father was a victim of. The mixture of lighthearted moments with dreadful revelations (your sister’s increasing deliquency involving her girlfriend, and dabbling with supernatural rituals) puts you through a push and pull of emotion.
Where the game is at its most controversial is its ending. After a continuous build-up that has you believing that something extremely horrific has happened to your sister by either her own hand or by the sinister spirit of the aforementioned sexual abuser, the conclusion is something far more benign. Katie discovers that her parents were away for couples counseling and your sister took off on a lovestruck adventure with her girlfriend. No bloody sacrifice. No dramatic suicide. Just a portrait of a family going through the trails and tribulations that many families go through: Love. Rejection. Affairs. Misunderstandings. The list goes on. But rarely do we have an open window into all of it. We never quite know all that is going on in our family’s lives, nor do we always want to. At first, I did not know how to process the end of this game. In a short amount of time I was totally involved and invested in what was going on in that house with the people that lived there. I wanted to dislike it for leading me to think the worst of what was I going to find when I lowered that ladder to the attic. When that book was opened, I was ready to read a harrowing account of Sam being pushed over the edge and harming herself because of her girlfriend leaving town without her and joining the military. Or her parents doing whisking her away to a ‘pray away the gay’ facility or something. But then I thought about what the writers had gone through to keep the story interesting all the way to the end. I was engaged from beginning to end, which is difficult for any story.
Sometimes we just have to feel relieved that not everything is bad in the world. We can (albeit recklessly) chase after our dreams like Sam did. We can try to make things right like their parents. Like Katie, sometimes discovery is found by just going home.