In the current gaming world, it often seems like you have a choice between shooters and casual games, with the occasional RPG and Sim thrown in. In the last few years, however, story-based games seem to be making something of a comeback. Made famous in the mid-1990s by Myst, point-and-click adventure games had a good run before shooters overtook them a few years later.
Recently we’ve begun to see more of these, some coming from more of a graphic novel background with a choose-your-own-adventure feel (i.e. Telltale’s Walking Dead) and others more traditionally in the vein of Myst, although now instead of clicking and jumping to the next location, you actually get to walk around and explore. One of the newest examples is Gone Home from The Full Bright Company (the hot Indie Studio we interviewed a few months ago). Called by many 2013’s Indie game of the year, does it have what it takes to revive the story-based genre? We take a closer look at Gone Home for Mac to find out.
Gone Home is about as story-driven as it gets. The game starts with you at the front door of your family’s new home in June 1995. You’re Kaitlin Greenbriar, the oldest of two daughters and you’ve just come home from a year in Europe to the house your family moved into while you were gone. You arrive to find no one home. Your job is to find out what happened to everyone and you do this by exploring the house, and it’s a big one. Oh, and it may be haunted too.
Gameplay in Gone Home is straightforward. You walk around using the traditional WASD keys, look around using the mouse/trackpad pointer, can crouch, pick up and put down objects, and examine them more closely with the Shift key. If you find items you might need later, they are automatically added to your inventory (backpack). If you happen to need an item, it will be automatically used, no need to go into your backpack and get it.
You can interact with your environment in various ways, and that’s mainly what you’ll do as you investigate the mystery of what happened to your parents and sister.
As you explore the house you’ll find various items that will begin to tell the story of what happened to your family and a bit about the house itself and its previous occupants. Gone Home is almost more like reading a book than playing a game. The focus is on the unfolding story rather than solving puzzles or action scenes. In fact, the few puzzles you will find are quite simple, and if I’m saying that, you know it’s true; they’re really just there to add a little spice to the story, not to defeat you by their intricacy.
In fact, it would really be hard not to finish the game as it unfolds in a fairly straightforward fashion. While you can certainly investigate the house in whatever order you like, the game will be pretty much the same however you go about it. You’ll learn different parts of the story in different order, maybe unlock some hidden areas sooner or later, but in the end, you’ll explore everything you need to and find everything out regardless of where you start looking. Without giving anything away, I found the ending a bit abrupt, and it left me feeling like there should have been more. While the story certainly has a resolution, you may find yourself wishing for more details. That’s about all I can say without spoilers.
In a game like this, the presentation is all important, and Gone Home doesn’t disappoint. As a game without any fast movements or huge combat scenes, I figured I’d be able to play it with the graphics turned all the way up, even on my four-year-old iMac. Well, I didn’t. Gone Home features very high-quality graphics that looked good even turned down. It helps that the house tends to be dark until you turn on the lights, but even so that makes the game even more atmospheric, which is part of the point. The fact you can interact with much of the environment means that many of the objects are fully 3D rendered.
In addition to the nice graphics, the lighting and sound add to the overall impact of the game. It has a creepy, haunted house feel, which is enhanced by part of the plot, and everything in the game contributes to this. The voice acting is very good, and the game even features original music which figures into the plot. Everything in Gone Home works together to create an atmosphere that fits the story beautifully, leaving you at times sweaty-palmed with apprehension, curious or baffled as the game intends.
As mentioned above, I had no real performance issues playing the game on a 4-year-old (although high end at that time) iMac once I turned the graphics down. Movements and animations were smooth, the sound was great and even the lower graphics looked good. The only minor issue I had was sometimes after turning on a light my viewpoint switched to looking straight down. Don’t know if that was a trackpad problem, but it was quite minor.
Minimum system requirements:
- OSX 10.7 with a 1.8 GHz processor
- 2 GB RAM
- 2 GB Hard Drive space
- 512 MB graphics card (including Intel HD Graphics 4000. Intel GMA 900, 950, X3100, HD Graphics and HD Graphics 3000 not support)
- Interesting story that pulls you in and keeps you involved
- Beautiful graphics
- Good sound and lighting
- Maybe a little short
If you’re looking for a story-based game in which to lose yourself for a few hours, you could do a lot worse than Gone Home. Its combination of believable characters, quality graphics, sound and lighting and original story-telling keeps you involved and wanting to find out what happened to your family. It’s also nice to find a purely female-driven game in a male-dominated gaming world. The only problem I had was that the game ended too soon and I still had some questions I wanted to be answered. Can anyone say sequel?