Gone Home debuted in 2013, but it was so affecting that the experience of playing the game still pops into my head every few days.
And now, Gone Home — which landed on EW’s Best Games of 2013 list — is available on the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, opening the game to an entirely new audience. It’s an opportunity not to be missed, as Gone Home remains one of the more unique releases of the last few years.
Flashing all the way back to 1995, Gome Home‘s setting allows the developers Fullbright to reference pop culture touchstones like riot grrrl music, Street Fighter II, and The X-Files. Players control Kaitlin Greenbriar, returning to her family home from college on a dark and stormy night. The mansion is desolate — no one is home, a note on the door the only indication of their whereabouts. And so players, and Kaitlin, set off to explore home — both the literal and metaphorical idea of that word.
It’s best to go into Gone Home knowing nothing else about the plot — players will explore the family mansion in a rare opportunity to find out what Kaitlin’s family has been up to in her absence, as well as some of the secrets held deep within the family’s history. To know anymore would ruin the experience, because Gone Home is all about those discoveries. An objective becomes clear over the course of playing, but “playing” Gone Home boils down to interacting with items in the environment like cassette tapes, reading notes, scraps of paper, and old letters that tell a variety of fascinating suburban stories.
Gone Home’s brilliant set-up also (slight spoilers follow) crafts an unexpectedly spooky adventure. Thunder booms outside as players navigate the house, floorboards creek, doors squeak, and windows rattle. You’re alone in the house, and the expectation that something horrific waits around the next corner can easily seep into the experience.
But whether or not something does ever jump out at you, Gone Home compels the player forward through how its narrative unfolds. Kaitlin is ostensibly rummaging through her family’s home, but it is now as alien to her as it is to the player. How engaged the player is with discovering the truths her home holds is just how engaged Kaitlin is in the search. The “home” Kaitlin knew has existed far outside herself, and Gone Home is on some level about reconciling the difference between the home she thought she knew and the reality of what home actually is.
The game is also about more more than Kaitlin’s experience, however — Kaitlin’s sister is actually more of a narrative thrust. Kaitlin is the conduit by which the rest of the Greenbriar’s collective tales are told. Stories of love, frustration, guilt, and everything else tied up in the drama of a normal family showcase that it doesn’t take the end of an entire world to tell a story in a game. Games have the capacity to tell stories on a smaller but no less meaningful scale, and Gone Home is, well, home to a number of those stories absolutely worth uncovering.
Gone Home is available for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on Jan. 12 and Jan. 13, respectively, and was previously available for PC and Mac.