Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Gone Home Console Edition Review (XONE)

Perhaps the most infamous of the walking simulators due to the subject matter of its story, Gone Home is otherwise a fairly pedestrian voyeuristic jaunt through a giant old manor perfectly suited for “This Old House”.  Like all walking sims, you walk around and look at stuff while a story unfolds around you, and Gone Home doesn’t do this any better or worse than any other entry in the genre.  It does get points for being full of 90’s references that, along with the story, does set it apart from other games at least.  See our full review of Gone Home: Console Edition for Xbox One right here for more details.

Game Details

  • Publisher: The Fullbright Company / Midnight City
  • Developer: The Fullbright Company
  • ESRB Rating: “M” for Mature
  • Genre: First-Person-Adventure
  • Pros: Solid story; 90’s references; good presentation
  • Cons: Little replay value; price; boring
  • MSRP: $20

Gone Home is the story of a girl named Kaitlin who comes home in June 1995 after spending a year abroad.  No one is home, however, and as you explore the house you learn where everyone went and what had happened in the year while she was gone.  The house – a mansion, really, inherited from a rich uncle - she comes back to isn’t really her “home”, though, as the family moved in while she was away, so you as the player and Kaitlin have a sort of shared experience as you explore an unfamiliar place together.

The story of the family – Katie’s parents and younger sister – is told through the things you discover as you explore.  Going into too much detail would spoil it, so I won’t do that, but I will say that each family member does have clear stories to follow – with the main story thread following Katie’s sister Sam - and that they can cover some pretty touchy subjects.  Overall the story is interesting enough that you’ll want to see how things come together at the end, which makes Gone Home worth a playthrough.

With that said, Gone Home does still have the same issues as every other walking simulator when it comes to gameplay, length, and overall value.  The gameplay is exceedingly simple as you’re just walking slowly around a house and looking at notes and solving a simple puzzle or two.  I will say it is ever so slightly more interactive than other walking sims as you can actually pick up and interact with a lot of stuff in the game, but don’t expect much traditional gameplay. 

It only takes around 2-hours or so to play through – more or less depending on how quick you are in scouring every room for notes –, however, and once you’ve played through it once the game has virtually no replay value.  Your first playthrough is a fascinating experience because you’re unraveling a mystery and following a sort of breadcrumb trail that Sam left for Katie through the house.  Once you know where the trail ends, and how to get there, though, which only takes literally a minute from the start of the game if you know where to go, the thrill is totally gone if you ever try to play it again.  This is a problem because the game costs $20, which is way too damn much.  Even with a developer commentary mode and some somewhat interesting achievements that ask you to do some unexpected things, that $20 price tag is hard to justify for the amount of content you’re actually getting.

The presentation is nice overall, but the visuals aren’t spectacular.  You’re just wandering around a (ridiculously) giant house, after all.  It is appropriately detailed and does seem fairly realistic and lived in, which is a nice touch.  And since it takes place in 1995, there are tons and tons and tons of pop culture references from the time scattered all over from Street Fighter II on the SNES to The X-Files and more.  The sound is also quite nice thanks to solid voice acting, a good musical score, and great sound effects for the thunderstorm raging outside.

All in all, Gone Home tells a through provoking story that is worth your time, but the $20 price tag is probably asking too much.  Most other walking sims of this length (like Virginia and Dear Esther) have been $10 on Xbox One, which is a lot easier to justify.  And while Firewatch is also $20, it offers a lot more game time and prettier visuals than Gone Home has.  Gone Home is an enjoyable overall experience, though, no doubt about that, but like all walking simulators it can’t be easily recommended to everyone regardless of how good it may be.  If you need your games to be “videogame-y” you definitely won’t like it, but if you enjoy a good story and already like walking simulators, Gone Home is worth a look.