Hey, let’s do another playthrough!
I had a lot of fun with my last playthrough, Lightening Returns, even though that was just a demo. This one will be the first twenty or so minutes of a little indie gem released last year called Gone Home. One of my friends recommended I play this game, so I picked it up. You can get it directly from the game’s website or from the Steam Store. It’s developed by the Fullbright Company, a small indie outfit based in Portland. Oregonians, represent! Members of the company have done work for some of the Bioshock games, which is pretty clear from the few moments of Gone Home that I’ve played so far.
This essentially plays like BioShock without any murder. You walk around, pick things up, examine them, and read letters. Every once in awhile, an action will trigger a diary entry, which is read in a voice over, exactly like the audio diaries and voxophones in the BioShock games. And that’s it. This might seem boring on the surface of things, but the exploration and audio diaries were always my favorite things about the BioShock games. When I was a kid, I played the hell out of Myst. I sucked at the puzzles, but I loved exploring the mysterious island and reading all of the books. I used to spend hours just wandering around and clicking on things, never solving a single puzzle, just looking around and experiencing the world. It was such a cool way for a story to unfold, having to piece it together yourself and draw your own conclusions.
Of course, I’ve never played a game where the exploration was the sole purpose of the game! In BioShock, if you spend too much of your attention on exploration, people sneak up on you and shoot you. In Myst, you could only explore so much without having to bend your brain around some kind of absurdly obtuse puzzle in order to advance the game. So Gone Home seems like a perfect game for me! Let’s check it out.
Note: This IS a playthrough of the first chunk of the game, so from here on out, suffice to say there will be nothing but spoilers. You have been warned.
The game opens with an answering machine message, a girl telling her family that her flight from Europe gets in late, that she will take a shuttle home from the airport, that her family needn’t wait up for her. Then, I am standing on a porch. A date flashes up: June 7, 1995. Ah, the 90’s. One of the porch lights is blinking spookily. It’s a pretty damn nice porch, actually. These people live in a pretty swanky house. Next to me are some duffel bags. One has my name on it: Katie Greenbrier. Good to know. It’s stormy outside, and the occasional crash of thunder makes me feel on edge, adding nicely to the slightly spooky atmosphere.
The game is first person. Controls are simple. WASD to move and the mouse to look around. Clicking on things lets you examine them. So I step forward. I notice there’s a note on the front door. It’s from someone named Sam, and it’s addressed to me. The handwriting looks feminine, so I am thinking of Sam as a “she.” Sam apologizes for not being here, but says it is “impossible” for me to see her. She begs me not to look for her, because she doesn’t want “
Mom and Dad anyone” to know where she is. She promises we will see each other some day and assures me she loves me.
I try the door, but it’s locked (of course). Well, I bet the key is hidden on this porch! Perhaps under the doormat? No, too easy. There’s a can of Fizz Rite ginger ale next to a chair to the right of the door. Man, now I want some ginger ale. No key over here, though. On the other side of the front door, however, I discover a cabinet full of Christmas decorations: a tangled pile of lights and ornaments and a ceramic Christmas Duck. Picking up the Christmas Duck reveals a key! I put down the Christmas Duck, after noting that he cost 5.99 ($5.99! In 1995? That’s about 5.00 more than I am willing to pay for Christmas kitsch.) Picking up the key prompts the game to note that I can examine the contents of my backpack by pressing 1. I do so, and discover my inventory screen.
Oh, look, I have a passport! I am 22 years old and I am born in December. I also have a boarding pass. I came from Amsterdam and landed in Portland! Cool, Amsterdam seems like a sweet place to chill out. And maybe this game is set in Portland? That would make sense, since the game was made in Portland. Also, it’s raining. It’s always raining in Portland.
I open the front door with my shiny new key. This house does seem pretty swanky. It also seems weirdly empty. There are a lot of boxes sitting around on the floor, labeled from a move. Is my family moving in or out? There are a few lights on in the house, but no one seems to be home. There’s a flight of stairs directly in front of me, but I decide to be methodical in my search, and check out the first floor before I head upstairs. I turn on a lamp on a side table to the right of the door. The table is covered in mail, and its drawers are full of papers. The only thing I can examine closely is a handwritten note with a map sketched on it. It’s written in a different handwriting from the note on the door. It seems to be directions to “work” from this house. At the bottom of the paper, there’s the incredulous comment: “Travel Time: 1hr 10 minutes?!” Hmm, looks like someone had a longer commute than they expected. It also makes me think that this house is not located in Portland, but rather somewhere in the middle of nowhere.
There’s a closet in the wall next to me, and inside I discover many coats and yet more boxes. One coat is a bright blue sports jacket with a yellow owl on it that says Goodfellow High School. Goodfellow? It’ may be my Shakespeare degree talking, but I can’t help but think of Robin Goodfellow. I passionately hope this family has been kidnapped by fairies. That would be SO COOL. Well, not for them. But for me!
A brown coat hanging opposite has a green Forestry Service ID badge clipped to its pocket with a photograph of a pretty woman and the name Janice Greenbrier: Senior Conservationist. Ah, Oregon. The state where forest service workers make enough to raise their families in spooky old mansions. On a shelf above the coats is a weird old board game called Over the Alps (Which apparently some passionate fans have adapted into a real board game, how awesome is that?).
On a bookshelf to the right of the stairs, I find a few track trophies with my name on them. Apparently I’m a runner! There’s a really fancy-looking chest of drawers near the bookshelf with more papers and files stacked on top of it. In its red and gold painted drawer, I find a letter addressed to someone named Jan (my mom, Janice, I bet). It’s from an old college roommate named Carol, who seems to be jealous of my family’s nice new house, which is described as being a mansion in the woods. She also asks if I had left on my “big European adventure” yet, which makes me think that this letter must be several weeks old, at the very least. In the cupboard under the drawer are some giant ass phonebooks (remember the 90s WHEN EVERYONE HAD PHONEBOOKS), one labeled Boon County Telephone Directory. Is that where I live? Google can’t find a Boon County in Oregon, though. Weird.
The door to my right that leads to what I assume is the right wing of the house is locked, so I head back to the left of the front door, unexplored territory. Immediately to the left of the front door is a small bathroom. The sliding cupboards are full of cleaning supplies, towels, toilet paper with a fat baby on the label, and the February 1995 issue of Author Magazine. I wonder who in my family is the writer. I can flush the toilet and run the faucet, that’s exciting! I pick up a bottle of green apple handsoap to examine it, then inadvertently discover that I can choose to throw it on the ground instead of putting it back. Cool! Can I do that with everything? I throw the toilet paper at the wall, but the magazine won’t let me throw it. Oh well, that’s fun, I can mess up my house since no one is home to stop me!
In the drawer of a small dresser next to the stairs, I discover an airline timetable. Inside, someone has written that “Katie’s departure” is on the 6th of July, 1994 at 12:10 to Amsterdam. Aha, so if the magazine is from February 1995, then I’ve been gone for at least eight months. I find a marker in the drawer, too, and I throw it on the ground. For spite.
Oh hey, on a small cabinet next to the dresser, there’s a phone and an answering machine! REMEMBER ANSWERING MACHINES. I bet there’s some clues over here! Next to the answering machine is a note. In neat, businesslike handwriting, “Mom” instructs one Sam to call someone named Daniel because he wants to visit Sam. A different, more childlike handwriting (Sam, I’m sure) responds to this message by protesting that Daniel is a weirdo and the only reason she ever hung out with him at all is because he had a Nintendo when they were kids. Seems like a good reason. I run back to the front door to check Sam’s note. Yep, same handwriting. Mom’s handwriting might be the same as the writing on the directions I found earlier, but I’m not certain.
There’s only three messages on the answering machine, which makes me think that the family can’t have been gone more than a day or two at most. I play them. The first message is an irritating kid’s voice just going, “Sam…Sam…SAM!” over and over again. The second message is a tearful girl asking where Sam is, begging her to be there. Well, that’s slightly alarming. The third message is the one that I apparently left, the same message that played at the opening of the game, assuring my parents that they did not need to come pick me up at the airport.
Hanging on the wall next to the phone is a family portrait. I glance at my passport photo in my inventory. So I’m the girl in the back. The girl in the plaid is clearly Sam, my sister. I was right, she is a girl. In the middle is my mom, Jan (Janice), and mustachioed man is my dad, Terry. We look happy enough.
I open the door into the left wing of the house. Immediately to my left is a door; it’s a closet! It contains boxes and a green backpack with a button on it that says Heavens to Betsy. There’s a piece of paper sticking out of the backpack. It is a welcome letter from Goodfellow High School to new students, printed in purple ink. It lists some basic school supplies that students are to bring; the last item on the list is “a positive attitude!” Everything on the list is crossed out except the last. Hmm. Looks like Sam isn’t exactly thrilled about her new school. Putting the note back triggers a journal entry from Sam. She describes her first introduction to her class on the first day of school, complaining that everyone knows her as “the psycho house girl.” Oh really. So perhaps this house is haunted. Ghosts are not as exciting as fairies, but that probably makes more sense.
On a dresser down the hall I find a postcard from Paris, sent by me! It’s dated August 6, 1994. I throw it on the floor and move on. In the dresser drawer, there’s an obituary cut out from a newspaper for a man named Oscar “Doc” Masan who “died peacefully last month in his home.” He was a pharmacist and well-beloved, but the brief article also notes that “he was seldom seen outside his home.” I’m willing to bet this house that I am standing in was his home. I wonder if he’s the psycho? Or maybe it’s his nephew, Terrence Greenbriar? Wait, that’s MY last name! Oh, Terrence, Terry! This dead guy is my dad’s uncle.
I put down the obituary. Next to it in the drawer is a photograph of a pretty young woman with pink hair wearing an army uniform of some kind. He name tag reads “Desoto.” I toss it to the floor next to the postcard. I can also pick up a pack of cards and a pencil from the drawer, and I throw those on the ground, too. Just for good measure.
I head down the hall. I hear a voice! Oh, it’s a TV, left on in the living room down the hall to my left. It’s a severe weather warning message, enjoining all residents of this and all neighboring counties to stay indoors because of flood conditions. It’s sort of spooky, playing over and over. The atmosphere is starting to get to me.
I like this game so far. I am definately going to keep exploring, trying to figure out what happened to my family. Were the kidnapped? Murdered? Spirited away by fairies? I don’t know, but I want to find out.
I’d recommend this game wholeheartedly, based on my first twenty minutes. The atmosphere is excellently maintained, especially if you play it with headphones. I have to say, I find the controls weirdly difficult to handle, but I often have trouble with first person perspective PC games. I’ve never been terribly precise with my mouse movements, and I really prefer to use a controller is at all possible. I always move like a drunk person with a broken neck in first person PC games, so I think the problem is with me rather than the game.
I’m going to go back to playing now. The mystery of the Greenbriars shall be solved!
-Three Hours Later-
Just finished the game.
OMG THE FEELS
What a great mystery! The story was expertly paced throughout the exploration. Even though there were no clear guideposts, the clever use of puzzles and keys naturally herded me through the story. The voice acting was EXCELLENT. And, like any good mystery, the misdirections piled up and were not swept away until the very end.
Believe me, three hours of your life is worth the experience of this game.