Gone Home: The lesbian is not home
Gone Home is something of an indie darling. Loved and hated by gamers and game journalists alike. Gone Home caused a stir in the gaming community that few indie games enjoy. But now, it's quite a mundane walking Sim with a decent story.
Katie arrives back home after a long trip traveling in Europe, only to find that the house is empty. There she goes to piece together the events of her family's life before and after Katie left. The story is properly the only aspect that is worth focusing on, to be honest. Gone Home's narrative is engaging and sometimes made me feel feelings. In hindsight, it is not the most original story in the world nor is it particularly groundbreaking when it comes to the depiction of certain groups now. Well written but never the less passé.
Katie is not the main focus of the story, she is mainly the means of telling Samatha's story. I have no problem with this as Katie does react to the events. She is still a person who is discovering a rather important aspect of her older sister. That being said, Sam's is pretty well done. The common trope of unhappy endings is (thankfully) avoided. The parents either don't care or are blissfully ignorant about Sam's romance with Lonnie.
They don't disown her or cause her to be miserable. Maybe it is because at the time these sorts of romances were rare. I enjoyed the simple pleasure of a gay romance without the boring misery porn. Gone Home is (at its core) a simple story about growing up and falling in love. None of the trite confessions or family conflict that sadly occupy queer storylines (and often in real life), just a nice, wholesome romance with an optimistic ending.
Note: While researching the story (to make sure that I didn't get the names mixed up) I discovered there was a plot point where the parents make Sam miserable by forbidding her to see Lonnie alone and pretending the relationship is not real. I didn't find this plot point while playing.
The false flag
There is a rather unusual narrative false flag in the ghost subplot. I honestly don't know it is even there as it barely relates to the story or the characters. Throughout the game, the house is referred to as the “Psycho house”. Sam and her girlfriend host playful ghost hunting tours of the house, Sam even attempts a Séance. All of this is supposed to prove that the ghost of the previous owner is haunting the place.
It keeps building, with examples of supernatural activity becoming a very real possibility (light bulbs break when Katie picks up the crucifix). But it doesn't go anywhere. It stops when the game ends, seemingly irrelevant to the themes of growing up. Maybe it might have worked if it was purely based on imagination. It could have been a metaphor about Sam letting go of childish things and accepting reality. But the light bulbs break when Katie picks up the cross, suggesting that there is something there. But it never gets resolved and no one seems to care.
Gone Home is a very basic walking simulator. You can interact with objects, most of which will not do anything asides from offering personality to the house or pushing the story forward. There are some (total of three) locker combinations, but they are very easy to solve. All you have to do is explore the house and everything will progress. At most, you just have to keep a watchful eye. I do wish there was a run button (would have made exploration and backtracking slightly less tedious). But otherwise, there is not much to complain about. Gone Home is so basic that there is very little to complain or praise. It's perfectly fine.
I do like the house layout, with its long hallways, well lived-in rooms and secret passages. It captures the feeling of a real home while also appearing unfamiliar. The secret passages and locked doors, while easily discoverable, make the house feel alive and (most importantly) intractable. You (Katie) are exploring the house and gathering the story, you are not a camera watching something interesting unfold. It works as a game and could only work as such. Due to the secret passages and very basic but intractable environmental elements (lights) Gone Home makes what would have been a very mundane environment, interesting to explore. You want to keep going just to find the next area, the next short cut, just see more of the house.
Art style and Graphics:
Gone Home looks perfectly fine, the engine is very well suited to the enclosed environments. The house feels lived in and believable.
I won't lie, Gone Home is perfectly fine. The story is engaging and maybe even moving. But the gameplay is not particularly challenging or interesting. While not as bad as Dear Esther or Layers of Fear, I ended my second playthrough feeling like I had enjoyed a great bag of crisps. It made me feel sad and contemplative for a little bit. But once it was over I didn’t think that much of it.