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Game Info:

Gone Home
Developed by: The Fullbright Company
Release Date: August 15th, 2013
Available on: Windows (reviewed), Mac OS X, Linux
Genre: Adventure
Number of Players: single-player
ESRB Rating: n/a
Price: $20

Your name is Katie and it's 1995.  You're back home from a touring vacation in Europe and something is off.  While you were away your father inherited a house just this side of a mansion.  It's old and creaky and alien.  You arrive in the middle of the night amid a raging storm to no one to greet you.  Your parents are gone and there's merely a cryptic note left on the door by Sam, your sister.  It's up to you to piece together what is going on from this point by exploring the property and gathering clues.

From the onset, Gone Home exudes atmosphere from every pore.  The pelting rain is relentless (if a little repetitive for something you hear across your entire play), shadows greet you first whenever entering most rooms, lights flicker here and there because of ancient wiring, and the house creaks and groans under its own age.  It's the perfect environment to let your imagination run wild as you try to piece together the mystery central to the game.  The developers even throw in a potentially supernatural red herring to feed the fire.

If you know of The Chinese Room's Dear Esther (and you should), you'll find the gameplay familiar, if only a touch more interactive.  The story is linear and interactive only in the sense that you get to click on clues that either unlock narration from your sister or grant you access to another area of the house.  In some regards it could be compared to Myst, only with no puzzles.  Unlike Myst, however, you have no agency in what unfolds.  You're here to observe, not effect.

Highlights:

Strong Points: Great atmosphere and good voice acting
Weak Points: Cliched writing, little interactivity
Moral Warnings: Makes alternative lifestyles core to the experience

As you explore the house you discover that your parent's relationship has hit a bit of a rough patch.  Your father is an aspiring writer and his works aren't garnering the attention he'd like, to make matters worse he seems to be suffering from writer's block.  It's implied that he's started drinking and growing distant because of this.  But the meat of the story, which is why you're playing this game, centers around Samantha.

And it's at this point I don my subjective hat, because I have to.  The core premise of the game is the unraveling of a mystery.  Gone Home has garnered a lot of praise because of this mystery and I think it's purely for political reasons.  When this mystery was unveiled in the game I became instantly disinterested from what was happening and the game devolved into a cliched paint-by-numbers plot from then on.

Score Breakdown:
Higher is better
(10/10 is perfect)

Game Score - 82%
Gameplay - 15/20
Graphics - 8/10
Sound - 8/10
Stability - 5/5
Controls - 5/5

Morality Score -67%
Violence - 10/10
Language - 3/10
Sexual Content - 6/10
Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7.5/10

To talk about this properly ***SPOILERS*** must follow:

The emotional revelation of the game is: Your sister Sam is a lesbian exploring her sexuality with fellow high school student and social misfit Lonnie.

From there the plot becomes completely predictable and hinges upon you feeling for the plight of these two girls.  I maintain that the praise for this game is political because, were you to change Lonnie into, say, Larry, you're still left with an uninspired high school love story; a story we've heard a hundred times and rolled our eyes at 99 of those times.

Furthermore, the one time Christianity comes up it's just long enough to bash it.

For a game that started with so much potential, for it to fall apart to serve a cliched political end is disappointing.  And the $20 price tag for a game that lasts, at most, three hours only rubs salt into the wound.

I firmly believe there's a market for very short games that ask customers to pay a little more up front in return for a solid piece of entertainment from beginning to end.  I was willing to take a risk on Gone Home and I got burned.  I won't stop taking risks, however.

I hope the next time an indie developer asks its customers to pony up a little more than might be comfortable, they'll leave politics at the door, or at least not obfuscate them as The Fullbright Company has.

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Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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