As a gaming community, we’re well versed in the nature of ‘walking simulators’, with more of these types of games garnering mainstream praise on a regular basis; games like Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch, and Virginia, receiving acclaim for their narrative-driven approach. There was a time when this wasn’t the case however, with folks questioning whether such experiences could actually be considered a game. Although there are a couple of examples which led to the acknowledgement of exploration-focused offerings being worthy, Gone Home is one particular shining light and developers Fullbright deserve a lot of credit five years on from its console debut.
While Gone Home started out life on PC in 2013, subsequently earning various awards including Game of the Year from some outlets, my focus switches towards Gone Home: Console Edition. Originally expected in 2014, a need to change publishers to Majesco Entertainment for the port meant a delay was necessary, but Gone Home: Console Edition finally arrived on 12th January, 2016 for Xbox One and PlayStation 4 in North America – the rest of the world had the joy of waiting for another month. It was certainly worth holding out for though.
Gone Home is a story-based exploration game, often dubbed a walking sim, in which you play the role of a young woman named Kaitlin Greenbriar, who has returned home after a lengthy trip abroad. Upon her arrival in the dead of night, she finds the residence desolate and in disarray. What’s happened? Where are her mum Janice, dad Terry, and sister Sam? Why is the place looking such a mess? These are just some of the questions Katie – and you, of course – wants answered and that means searching for these answers.
In order to do so, you’ll roam the incredibly eerie massive house in first-person view at your leisure. It has to be said that you get as much out of the experience as you put into it, with tons of interactive items and telling signs throughout if you wish to find them. This could involve picking up notes detailing exchanges between Sam and her friend, reading letters from Terry’s employers, or grabbing a bottle of hair dye to invoke a memory. Piece by piece you begin to build a mental picture of family life for the Greenbriars and how they are facing many, fairly relatable, struggles.
There’s just so much detail within, it’s really impressive that you can learn a vast amount about one family in the space of two hours. From falling in and out of love, to addiction and prejudice, Gone Home tackles multiple angles while also throwing in extra tidbits for pure nostalgia’s sake. You see, the tale is set way back in 1995 and references to 90’s pop culture are everywhere. Some of my favourites included a nod to Capcom’s Street Fighter, a TV guide featuring The X Files, mentioning the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and even the concept of mixtapes.
For as fascinating and nostalgic as it is, there’s a seriously spooky vibe going on as well to put the scaredy cats like myself on edge. Though not a horror by any means, the audio department has done a smashing job at instilling creepiness here. Every floorboard creek will make you quiver, while the random bouts of thunder regular catch you off-guard. On the less frightening side of the audio though, the voice acting and various tunes on cassettes that could be played are of a very high standard.
I suppose the only criticism of Gone Home: Console Edition is that it doesn’t provide anything new to entice previous players back for more, with the differences merely in terms of improved visuals and enhanced audio. There’s still replayability potential however as a selection of modifiers – also available on PC – are in place. Once enabled, they can unlock all the doors from the beginning, switch the lights on throughout the house, and, bizarrely, turn off the voice diaries from playing out loud. Most importantly though, you can get developer commentary, which gives great insight for anyone eager for more.
Despite the Gone Home adventure still holding up well to this day, that doesn’t satiate our collective needs for another memorable experience by Fullbright. There is the space-based Tacoma, but it’s over three years old now and it’d be wonderful to sink time into a fresh title. Fortunately, hope is forthcoming after a mysterious thriller called Open Roads was announced for a 2021 launch on PC and consoles. It’s centred on a mother and daughter who are taking a road trip in order to uncover some long lost family secrets.
Whether or not it’ll live up to Gone Home, only time will tell. For now let’s just appreciate this excellent narrative-driven exploration game from 2016 and how it helped pave the way for walking sims to become a valued wing of gaming. Do you remember when it first hit the consoles? What’s your take on the genre itself? Feel free to tell us as well as share any thoughts and memories you may have of Gone Home via the comments section below.