Around five years or so ago, Gone Home from the Full Bright Company launched and pretty much drew a line in the sand quality wise for first person narrative exploration games. The likes of Firewatch, What Remains of Edith Finch, our 2017 GOTY, and Life is Strange owe Gone Home a certain element of gratitude and paid the way for their future success.
While over the years the genre has been dogged by criticisms in some areas and having been labelled as simple walking simulators by others as not being real games, with Gone Home’s recent port onto the Nintendo Switch, let’s take a few moments to look into its legacy and see if it’s held onto the magic compared to the many other immersive story-led titles it inspired.
You’re immediately drawn into the overall narrative and melancholy environment of the Greenbriar home.
If by some chance you’re new to Gone Home, it was launched back in 2013 from a team of just four people. At launch it enjoyed widespread acclaim from fans and critics alike. Polygon for example named it their 2013 game of the year. IGN gave it a score of nine and a half and called it a remarkable first person adventure and Gamespot, another barometer of taste and style, called it superb and like IGN, gave it a score of 9.5.
The game takes place in the summer of 1995 and heavy with cultural references and items of the time, it begins with Katie Greenbriar, the elder of two sisters returning to her family home after a long trip overseas. While Katie expected the family to be there to greet her, she finds the house empty and with a note from Sam, Katie’s younger sister, on the front door, things begin rather ominously and escalate further when Katie plays a handful of messages from the answer phone from an emotional lady asking for Sam to pick up the phone. As a beginning it still feels as immersive as it did back in 2013. You’re immediately drawn into the overall narrative and melancholy environment of the Greenbriar home.
As you go further into the empty house, you discover 90s era music cassette tapes, remember those? To think there are people watching this who will have no understanding of the connection between a cassette tape and a standard pencil – if someone would fancy explaining such details down in the comments that would be pretty cool and somewhat validate our thoughts on the age demographics of our channel. While we digress, other objects of 90s iconography include for this Switch edition, officially licenced SNES carts that were absent from the PC version, there are board games, cereal boxes and of course, like the original, the letters, notes, newspaper clippings and diary copies narrated by Sam that pull together piece by piece the goings on in the Greenbriar house over the past year of Katie’s absence.
For the Switch version, there are a few noticeable aspects of the game that were not there in the original. You can turn on all of the lights in the house, unlock the doors and listen to a commentary offering insights and musings from the creators and a handful of special guests. While we understand this hasn’t been updated since the Xbox and PS4 versions from 2016, as we hadn’t heard it before we took the option to play with the commentary turned on which are available by selecting an icon at any given point in the game.
Just like back in 2013, the story is as compelling and well written today as back then. The overall focus on Sam and the bond she forms with a classmate while being the new kid in the school remains superbly done. The revelations when they come are beautifully and touchingly expressed with superb voice narration throughout. In places, Gone Home offers a deeply emotional experience and once you’ve solved the mystery of the Greenbriar house, we suspect the story and Sam as a character will stay with you for months if not years to come.
It remains a first rate example of the narrative simulation genre – a poster boy and girl for those that have, and will continue to follow.
So with this port onto the Switch, what is Gone Home’s real legacy? For its time, with its leading cast of women, heavy with riot girl culture and the unique way its story fell into place without puzzles to solve or enemies to see off, then like now Gone Home creates a believable and realistic immersive environment for the house and the associated characters. Things feel tangible, almost real with the designers using the pace and flow to aid your discovery as you progress.
We’re left thinking Gone Home remains a wonderful accomplishment that’s as relevant today as it was after 5 years. It remains a first rate example of the narrative simulation genre – a poster boy and girl for those that have, and will continue, to follow and if you haven’t yet done so, Gone Home should be on your back log to play as soon as you’re able.
The game was provided to us by the publisher with this review being based on the full retail build of the game.
Gone Home (PC, PS4, Switch [reviewed], Xbox One)
Developer: The Fullbright Company
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Released: September 6, 2018
MSRP: $14.99USD / £11.99