As part of my optimistic attempt to work on my Blaugust To-Do List and clear 0.1% of my Steam games list, I got around playing Gone Home tonight. Finished in 2 hours – 116 minutes, to be exact.
I have to say… I didn’t really like it.
I admit I was a little spoiled by glancing through reviews that basically said: “Nothing really happens.”
Therefore, I did not allow myself to be the least bit scared regarding the 1001 horror movie tropes that Gone Home attempts to inflict on you. Flickering lights, creaky noises, coincidentally well-timed lightning, the works.
I think that part of it was the major let-down, so to speak.
It feels like the game was purposefully trying to pull your strings, show you a horror movie trope, let you imagine for a breath or two something stereotypical and dramatic had befallen… and then way too quickly, it also shows you the “logical” mundane explanation for what’s going on.
It just makes me wonder… why bother then? A good story should have rising action leading to a climax…
Conversely, Gone Home is filled with vignettes that let you briefly think /something/ might be approaching rising action, and then just as quickly, it lets you down and you deflate again back to mundania.
The central plot is okay, very prosaic in the larger scheme of things, the clues all support it… even if they end up rather “coincidentally” arranged so that you wander from room to room in a channeled linear fashion, picking up one key after another that unlocks a room with the next revelation (and the next key.)
I guess that was my main problem with Gone Home.
I just couldn’t stop from thinking meta and design thoughts.
At no point, did I really immerse into the simulation.
I started out blind and amnesiac, not even knowing who “I” was, with regards to this Katie person, whom “I” apparently am, says my luggage tags on the doorstep of this house.
That made it supremely hard to feel fearful, or indeed, even know how “I” was supposed to feel. A little more background at the beginning might have helped, perhaps.
I know I personally felt a lot more spooked in Vampire: Bloodlines’ haunted house – I had made and named my own character and chosen her vampire clan, I “knew” who she was, her background and could roleplay/immerse how she would feel. Furthermore, in the supernatural Vampire setting, -ghosts- may very well be very real creatures that might do horrible things to my health bar…
In Gone Home, the game seems to go out of its way to imply both super-mundanity (real life setting, absolutely nothing paranormal is going to happen, even if some characters believe some occult stuff) and game immortality of your avatar (she’s not going to get hurt, unless stumbling into a specially scripted event, right? And there can be no specially scripted events if the game is so hell bent on being mundane…)
So yeah, no fear. Just methodical turning on the lights, one after the other, and casing every room in a left-to-right systematic fashion, trying not to get lost.
Oh yeah, the other “meta” thought that I couldn’t shake? “This damn house is too fucking big. Awfully convenient of this fellow to die and will this monstrosity of a manor to the family. Where’s my ‘run’ key? Why don’t I have a ‘run’ key? Surely simulating panic ought to be important, if you want the player to pretend like they’re worried at any point? Also, convenience factor and all…”
Oh, here’s one thing I -did- like. Playing with glow-in-the-dark stars that do actually glow after you turn out all the lights you turned on.
Well, glad I got it finished, anyway. One more game off the “maybe should try” list.
Bottom line: I didn’t find it as spectacular as some other people might say.
Verisimilitude-wise, it is very very good. If you like an old house simulator where you can pick up and rotate various modeled items like soda cans, tissue boxes, potato chips and toilet rolls… none of which actually contribute to gameplay or story and merely a little to the atmosphere… Gone Home is good in that regard.
Story-wise, it makes sense. It doesn’t cheat you in that respect either. It’s just a very ordinary and mundane story, that unfortunately appears to be hiding under the cover of being some kind of ghost or horror story.
Problem is, you can go from mundane to supernatural themes, and overall tension and interest rises.
Take it the other way around, and it mostly ends up as a giant yawn.