Not going to dignify that blatant title plagiarism with a response or even a link. Let’s just get to looking at this nice-looking, critically acclaimed yet critically backlashed product about “family”, shall we?
Normally I look at video games in an official review that’s released around Monday or Tuesday, but I’m not going to do that regarding Gone Home because talking about an unstructured “game” requires a format that a more formal structure just won’t delegate, so I’m just going to go all rambly on it instead. You see, whilst getting back into the video game scene and taking advantage of some Steam sales, I’ve heard quite a bit of buzz regarding this thing from some of my colleagues. Apparently, it was an incredibly touching game with a heartwarming story and…now that I think about it, they never mentioned the gameplay at all. Well I did google the thing shortly after and discovered it was a walking simulator – a genre I’ve never actually played before, but I knew the gameplay was basically first-person viewpoint meets point-and-click adventure, along with the games usually being very short. And I could do with short games as long as they weren’t Ground Zeroes-like demos considering the number of long games I have on my backlog as is, so I bought the thing whilst it was 75% off, eager to one day experience the appeal for myself
Then I played the game. It was total shit. Okay, the horror-like atmosphere at the beginning was decently presented if a little generic and spoiled by the fact that I knew it wasn’t a horror game before playing it. And the house looks nice, if a little blocky. Aside from that, the whole experience was just plain shitty.
Let’s cut to the chase regarding the gameplay: it sucks. It doesn’t inherently suck or anything. I’m sure that that Stanley Parable thing I’ve heard so much praise for utilizes it in a way more reminiscent of your old-school point-and-click adventure. But in Gone Home, it sucks. The whole game is just walking around and clicking on many random objects in order to find the plot, and as I’ve stated many times in the past, connecting plot points for the sake of connecting plot points does not count as a story let alone a game. Admittedly, Gone Home adds a little twist to the formula by making your search around the house in order to discover why your family isn’t at home, using said horror presentation to trick you into thinking they’ve been taken by monsters. However, that driving force wears out quickly when you realize that they’re gone because of completely unrelated issues and it prevents said gimmick from ever holding up on replay because once you know the mystery and said solution is that it’s just a simple bait-and-switch, what’s the point in playing it again? It’s like if Gladys in Portal was secretly your little brother playing a prank on you.
But back to the gameplay, once you realize that you there’s not much to the thing besides finding stuff without any monsters or something else to antagonize you, pretty much all drive to continue was shot besides the fact that the game could be beaten in less than an hour. It’s pretty much the opposite end of visual novels, and even those have points you can fail at because you didn’t trigger the right flag. There is nothing you lose but time if you don’t get what to do, and why on earth would I want to interact with any sort of entertainment that purposefully wastes time?
And it’s not like the few puzzles are all that challenging either, excess of items you can click on aside. There’s one part where you have to open a locker by finding two pieces of paper that hints at the combination – and by hint, I mean they flat-out give it to you. But finding those pieces of paper is tough in of itself…if it wasn’t for those maps I found that flat-out tell you where they are whilst also making you question why this house has secret passages in the first place. But finding those maps are tough in that you have to search the whole house to find them…actually that isn’t difficulty at all. That’s just being obtuse.
Don’t even try convincing me that the story is enough to carry you through the lackluster gameplay, because it sucks a big fat one. In addition to relying way too heavily on discovering the truth, the actual discoveries are emotionally shallow and go for so many default/easy shots without any originality whatsoever. Your parents are experiencing some marriage/job troubles, but they’re nothing all that unusual in terms of long-term relationships. There’s this great uncle who I think the game hints at being a bit of a dark chap, but he’s dead by the time the game starts and is barely involved in the story anyways, so he’s useless.
However, the main draw is the story regarding the player’s sister and why she isn’t at home to greet them. In fact, the game ends with you discovering her final note revealing her true feelings regarding her issues whilst saying she loves you, and most of the other plot-relevant letters you find are written about her life. In short, she’s the true main character and you’re just the Nick Carraway to her Jay Gatsby. There’s just one thing: her issues are fucking boring! Her whole problem is discovering that she’s gay and fell in love with a girl who’s going to join the military. And whilst this was a big deal during the 90s, the game plays it out more like she’s some innocent girl who fell in love with some misunderstood biker boy, causing the gay angle to come off as nothing more than a gimmick. She even runs away to be with her in the end, effectively abandoning her family to an unsure future that in a good story would mean deep consequences. But since Gone Home does not have a good story, it just means ambiguity with a tinge of hopefulness at the end.
And most of all, how does that affect the player character – or Kaitlyn if you want to get technical? What do they learn from it? Why are they the focus character if the story does not do anything with them at all? Nick Carraway may have been an outsider to Gatsby’s story, but at least he learned something from his experiences that will carry over into his future. I don’t know what the fuck Kaitlyn is supposed to learn except maybe that family always has you on their mind even when you’re separated. If that’s the ultimate takeaway, then boring! That message is about as default and lazy as a story that ends with a girl realizing that every female wants to be a princess. I don’t need to go through an hour of lackluster gameplay and poorly fleshed-out characters we don’t even see in order to learn this!
In fact, I’m kind of in the mood to watch Tokyo Story again after all is said and done. And I recommend all Gone Home fans/haters to watch that film too, considering it’s one of the most critically acclaimed films about family for a reason.
PS: In retrospect, my rambly writing isn’t much different from my “formal review” writing.
PPS: Anyone who complains about the title for this post is going to have to show me a patent first.