Minimalism is an interesting idea, a concept where more is less has always been fascinating to me, even though I do not openly partake. When it comes to video games, it is a concept rarely pulled off with a deft touch, but the recent indie game golden age has seen several titles take the idea and run with it, and none more deftly than The Fullbright Company’s Gone Home.
Gone Home sees you play as Kaitlin Greenbriar, who has quite literally gone home for the summer. Arriving at the family home, it is dark, locked up and no one appears to be in. There is a storm outside and a strange note on the door. From there, discovery is the core concept of the game. Why is no-one home? exactly where is Kaitlin’s family? What is with that note?
I have told you all I am going to tell you about the titles story. Which is going to make this a very difficult review to write, but hey ho. You move through the house in first person, trying to work out the answers to all of those questions and more. As your exploration continues, you start to discover the history of, and information about, the Greenbriar family, giving you hints as to how each member is despite you never meeting them.
Atmosphere is created brilliantly in the game, and it almost gives the title a survival horror feel. Indeed, I kept wondering if there would be some horrible monster or serial killer hiding in one of the dark rooms, waiting to jump out and kill the last member of the family. The storm outside didn’t help, and blasts of thunder made me jump at least once.
It creates a brilliantly creepy atmosphere, but by the end you realise that creepiness is the same feeling you get in the real world, when moving around a dark and empty house by yourself at night. You know there is nothing wrong, but every sight and sound is interpreted by your brain as something completely different.
Sound design is paramount to this, and Gone Home has some of the best I have heard in years. Just standing in one place can create noises that it shouldn’t, making thoughts of a serious jeopardy creep back in, despite all you are doing is looking at a soda can. The storm raging just outside creates all new sounds as the house rocks and wind blows around, rocking the windows as rain batters down.
But it is the main story where the game truly shines, encapsulating that idea of less is more brilliantly. It builds a poignant, brilliantly paced and realised tale, one as heartbreaking as it is heart warming. It deals with concepts and themes few games go anywhere near, and pulls them off brilliantly. This is a story that has happened all across the world, and will continue to happen, as timeless as anything any other medium can produce.
For a game that is essentially a point and click adventure, Gone Home shows just what can be done with the interactive entertainment format, and is all the better for it. This is a game lavished with love, a tale the developers wanted to tell in a set way, and as creative a work as any brought to market this year. It stands as a testament to minimalist concept, with no combat or threat, no mysticism or world ending mcguffin, it is just a story about a family, one that struggles with the same problems we all do.
Gone Home proves that games do not have to be all action kill fests, that something else can be done with them. It may be short, just a couple of hours at most, but that is all it needs to draw you into the family life of the Greenbriar’s and weave a tale that will break, then warm, your heart. It is absolutely fantastic, and worthy of the price of entry, a game that should go down in history as a modern classic.