Overrated? Probably. Still worth playing? Maybe.
I learned something else today. Even if you delete a review on Steam and then post another review for the same title, the comments stay put. Which is….infinitely weird.
A Paladin’s Steam Review: Gone Home. A Short Exploration Game That’s Not For Everyone.
- Genre: First Person Exploration Game With Environmental Storytelling.
- Developed and Published by: The FullBright Company
- Platform: Windows, Mac and Linux.
- Business Model: Base Game
- Copy Purchased by Myself
I’ve talked about Gone Home before and I’ll admit that I came down on it pretty hard at the time. Especially in retrospect, as I’ve given other similar games in the genre positive recommendations. As I try to think back on why and reading what I had said at the time, it’s not hard to figure out what went wrong. Gone Home had been hyped up to such a ridiculous degree for me that it was destined to fail my expectations. This is something I rarely deal with because I often review games (especially now) long after most reviewers have said their piece. With Gone Home though, I hadn’t returned to reviewing and mostly wrote that review out of frustration. Additionally, I tried to compare this to other games that weren’t even in the same genre and I should know better. I do know better, now. Even after reviewing games for over five years, I still make some silly mistakes. I could just blame this one on that not being an actual official review (which it technically wasn’t) but I still said those words and still made that comparison. That’s why I’m here now, to correct that mistake.
Overall Gameplay Thoughts
Gone Home is a game entirely about exploring the environment of an old two story mansion in Portland OR and finding pieces to the stories of the people that lived there. You’ve arrived at this mansion in the middle of a storm and are completely alone. There’s an audio log that plays that identifies you as Kaitlyn, returning home from a trip abroad. Outside of that, what you do is up to you. It will, however, subtly encourage you to explore the house. The story is about a typical American middle-class family, that’s slightly dysfunctional, trying to deal with the average pressures of everyday life: highschool, relationships and work obligations. It’s not a setting that we often see in games outside of simulators. While there’s a hint of something supernatural going on (which IS typical of games), it seems to be the wild imagination of teenagers. The story is largely told through environmental objects, written notes and audio logs that play when you find an important item in the house. I’m not going to talk about the story and plot but I will say that while it seems to be a rather stereotypical American story, it’s still a very well told story and there are some interesting quirks. It handles the relationships and people very well, to the point that they sound like regular yet flawed human beings. Even though most of it is done through audio logs.
Inside this house, you can choose to go anywhere in the house that you like and either explore every nook and cranny or try to blitz it. There are some locked doors that will block your progress and require you to find the keys for them, but outside of that? You’re free to do whatever you want: open all the doors, pick up pens, notebooks and cassettes and turn on all the lights as it’s all fair game. Short of destroying anything that is. A journal and map will record what you find and remind you of what you can do next. Additionally, there are certain key items that will stay with you in your inventory but the rest of the items in the house can only be picked up and looked at in full 360 degrees of glory. The exploration is pretty good and well paced so long as you don’t completely miss important clues. While this wasn’t a horror game, I did find myself tensing up a little bit as I explored the house. Gone Home’s audio quality is superb enough to give that creepy feeling of being alone, no doubt assisted with the storm going on.
PC Settings and Rather Demanding Performance
Options are a bit more sparse with Gone Home. There’s a good selection of resolution options (though it’ll show the resolutions it detects will work best), fullscreen on/off and a graphics quality selection. The advanced options include antialiasing, V-sync, anisotropic filtering, ambient occlusion, bloom and motion blur that can either be turned on or off. Which doesn’t allow for a lot of flexibility. There’s an adjustable field of slider that has presets every five between 60 and 90. Shadow distance can also be set from none to “max”. There’s five different audio sliders for main, voice, music and sound effects volumes. If you don’t like headbob, that can be disabled as well as training messages, reticle and interaction highlights and text. Controls can be changed for keyboard and mouse (not the controller).
The bigger issue with Gone Home is just how much resources it demands. Running it on my system was difficult to get it run at a smooth 60FPS even with many of the graphics options turned off. It wasn’t until I set the graphics quality to low that I got a stable framerate. At that point, the game really doesn’t look good so suffering through varying framerates of 30-50fps is probably better than looking at an ugly house. I don’t know why it’s such a resource hog either but it suggests that optimization isn’t as good as it could have been.
Gone Home goes for a realistic look into a modern American mansion that’s done a bit of aging but has clearly been well maintained. Most of the items you’ll find range from as old as the 50s to more modern times though it always seems to fit. The soundtrack has an electronic and slightly orchestral sound to it that’s very calm. Almost like elevator music but without the annoying repetitiveness to it. The soundtrack will only play during audio logs, otherwise you’ll be listening to the rain and creaking house instead.
Gone Home has gotten better with age since the rather overhyped release and the deluge of similar titles onto the market. That being said, this isn’t a game for everyone. As with all games in this genre, you have to approach it from a different expectation. It’s purely an exploration game with no failure state and no real tension except for what you make. It’s also really short, especially if you attempt to blitz through it as fast as you can. Understandably, those two things will turn most people away from it and I don’t blame them. I am hesitant to recommend this but if a purely environmental exploration game is something you’re looking for, Gone Home is definitely a title to check out.
Thanks for reading!