Gone Home isn’t quite like anything else I have ever played. It is a first-person game about exploring a large home in Oregon. There are no enemies, puzzles, or ways to lose. There are almost none of the standard trappings of a video game, and it is one of the most interesting games I have played in a long time. It also does the absolute best job of any video game I have ever played at telling a complex and compelling story.
The story in question is a deeply affecting tale of a family coming to grips with itself over the course of a year. You play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, coming home after a year abroad. While you were gone, your family moved to a new house deep in the woods of Oregon. When you get to the house, it is empty. Your parents and little sister, Sam, are nowhere around, and the entire game is spent wandering through the empty house, trying to figure out why no one is home and what happened in the past year.
I can’t begin to tell you how engrossing this story is, but I spent the entire time walking through this house learning more and more about my absent family and alternating between dread and happiness. Sam is a spectacularly relatable character, and there are parts of her story that are truly wonderful. I would find out a detail about Sam’s life, and it would make me like her more and more, but these moments are counter-balanced with a real sense of unease.
This dread comes from two places. There is the universally disturbing feeling of walking through an empty house at night, with the prerequisite creaks and groans as the house settles. I’m sure that’s all that it is. It’s settling. There is also the sense that the family that you are learning about is careening toward something unthinkable, so try not to think about it. This feeling is heightened because you are essentially acting as an historian. Your understanding of the story is catching up to the events, but the resolution has already happened. All you can do is learn about it and hopefully understand it.
This is easily the best story I have ever seen in a game. Not only is it a wonderful story, it is the most impressive storytelling I have ever seen. The house feels more lived in than any video game environment I have ever seen. When you walk into a room, you know whose room it is, and you learn just a little bit more about the people who use the space. The game treads on the habits that video games have taught us. Open every cupboard. Pick up every bit of trash and scrap of paper. The thing is, in Gone Home, you don’t find health packs or gain experience. You find bits of the story and gain understanding. Every single thing in Gone Home serves the story, and it is so good.
From the beginning, it is clear that this is a game that you should make time for. It won’t even be that much time. You can race through it in a few hours, and since there is no combat and no time pressure, you can save it at any time and not miss a thing. The experience of exploring this house is enormously exceptional. A huge part of it is the wonderful story, but it also relies on some truly deft storytelling. This is a remarkable game that you need to play. And, I need to play it again.