Gone Home review: Mac game is full of surprises—in all the best ways
June, 1995. A dark and stormy night. An eerie, empty mansion. Pleading messages on the answering machine. And a note from your teenaged little sister, begging you not to find her.
You may think you know what kind of story Gone Home (Mac App Store link) is telling. But the small team of Bioshock veterans who made this game delight in building up, then subverting, your expectations of dread and doom. Gone Home isn’t a ghost story; it’s a tale of family, forgiveness, and love.
As 20-year-old Katie Greenbriar, you’ll explore the home your family moved into during your gap year in Europe. You can open nearly every door and drawer, and pick up and examine countless objects, to piece together what happened to your family in your absence. As you search, you’ll unlock beautifully performed audio diaries in which your sister Sam parcels out her story.
Gone Home perfectly captures its setting, from hand-labeled VHS tapes of X-Files episodes in the family room, to playable Riot Grrl music cassettes, to the working Magic Eye posters in Sam’s room. Every magazine cover or ink-scrawled high school note you find feels utterly believable.
What Gone Home lacks in graphical wizardry, it makes up for with atmospheric sound and lighting, and meticulous attention to detail. The placement and condition of the things you find tells as much of a story as their contents do. Even Katie’s personality manifests in the game’s interface; she’ll refuse to pick up certain objects, and offer sarcastic or touching commentary on others.
Gone Home is an awfully short game for its $20ish price tag—over in a matter of hours. But the moving story it tells, and the beautiful, intimate world it creates, will happily haunt you long after it’s over.