I’ve finally Gone Home.
I arrived during a heavy storm and there was no one there. My sister, my parents, all gone, and a confusing, almost scary note waiting for me, glued to the front door. Don’t tell mom and dad what you find out, don’t tell anyone! Signed – my sister. What happened, Sam? Why is there no one home, why is the house a mess, why does it look like everyone left in a hurry? Did something terribly bad happened?
Gone Home is a controversial indie game that generated a lot of mixed reactions from the press and gamer public. Some – many people, actually, questioned if it’s really a game at all. You don’t kill anyone, you don’t compete in anything, you are just placed in the shoes of an American teenager who returns home after a long trip to Europe, just to find a huge house empty and riddled with mysteries. Your… goal is to figure out what happened – and in particular, to understand what happened with your younger sister. As you start to explore, you are accompanied by her voice, whose journal (that you later find) is narrated entry by entry, as you stumble upon clues.
Gone Home does an excellent job in setting a mood and a scene for you to fulfill your curiosity, and it tops it up with a soundscape that complements perfectly the idea of a rather traditional American family with two teenage girls. It feels a bit like a mystery game, minus the murder and the spooky clues, even though one side story does have some interesting hints. And even though the storm that goes on outside, and the dimly lit rooms do make you look around the corner, and expect scary things to happen. The main story however is focused on something much more down to earth, yet just as surprising. And it makes me really happy to see that games finally reached a point where they can poke around highly controversial issues. But these kind of issues are treated differently in different parts of the world. Which is why I think I would have experienced Gone Home differently if I was American, and if I had the kind of teenage years it evokes.
I hesitated buying this game. As a developer with a particular interest in indies and new experiences, I felt like I had to play and understand such a controversial title as Gone Home. However, the original price – 19,99 Euro – seemed too much of an investment for a game/ research I might not have time to play/study anytime soon. But then I discovered Lifeless Planet, and that game MADE its time for me – one Saturday, I dropped everything, I forgot everything and just immersed myself completely in that universe. I was an astronaut. I loved being an astronaut. When I finished it…. I really craved for another immersion. And Gone Home was discounted that day. So I bought it for 6 or 7 Euros.
And accidentally finished it in one hour or so. Boom! I felt like the game smacked me in the face. I wasn’t satisfied, so I continued to explore, even though I knew the main outcome. Another hour, and I discovered all the side stories. I felt empty. You cannot compare Lifeless Planet with Gone Home. Even though…. you can!
The experience of playing both games felt a lot like reading books to me. They are both contained, linear experiences that do not allow you to stray away from what the developer prepared for you.They both focus on exploration and they both tickle your curiosity. What’s around that corner? What clue could be hidden in that drawer?
Lifeless Planet is a hard SciFi story that unravels strange, alien mysteries. Gone Home is a contemporary story about a typical American family. While far fewer would hesitate naming Lifeless Planet a game, what Gone Home offered differently is – I suppose – some extra freedom, or rather less clear progression in presenting itself. You don’t have to follow the story chapter by chapter. It’s like a book where you can choose to read Chapter 4 instead of 2, and if you insist you can do the same in Lifeless Planet too. But Gone Home felt to me like a messier book, whose chapters were falling out of their covers, so I read chapter 4 in advance, unaware. And accidentally found out the main plot way ahead of its time.
I wouldn’t say I LIKED Gone Home. Quite the contrary. I am definitely a SciFi/ fantasy fan and it’s hard to convince me to play, read or watch anything outside these genres. But as a game maker, I did not regret playing it, and from that perspective, my expectations were met. Would I recommend it to a fan of contemporary stories? Would I recommend it to my real life sister? I don’t know. Probably not, because…
I am a little bit bugged by its price. I think 20 dollars/euros is a high price for a 2 hour experience. In comparison, Maleficent 3D costs 120 SEK at my favorite cinema near by – that’s about 18 US dollars. I have no idea how much it will cost when you will be able to buy it on a DVD. I wouldn’t compare the production costs for Gone Home with the ones for Maleficent. Maybe I am wrong?
Another comparison is…. The Signature of All Things, the latest book which is not SciFi or Fantasy that I loved. The Kindle version costed 23 US dollars originally and now its USD17. The paperback version costs 14 dollars (why paperback is cheaper than Kindle eludes me, and makes me really angry too, but that’s another debate). The book has 884 pages, and I finished it in about 3 evenings. I am a quick reader and was barely able to put the book down. I think it took Elizabeth about a decade to write it.
Is it right to compare Gone Home with a movie and a book? What IS a game, after all, but a pleasant way to entertain yourself in your spare time? What’s in a name…
Lifeless Planet also costs 19,99 USD, but I don’t know if you can finish the game in 2 hours from the first try and with no help. I am sure the development of it was more expensive than Gone Home – it has 20 diverse environments as opposed to just one, and it has moving, animated characters, as well as far more actors than Gone Home.
So at least for me, Gone Home seems too expensive for the kind of experience it offers. A nice, refreshing alternative, but not one that managed to captivate me and convince me that it’s worth its value.