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Okay, first of all. As I start this review I must say that I feel like a complete hypocrite. I feel like I am betraying myself with every word I write for this review. But I MUST keep going with it, because I feel this needs to be said.
Before I started to play this game I had it written off. I'd heard about how it ends and how ridiculous it was. How it was like a 14 year old girls tumblr post or something. I had believed it. I had let that idea be it. I felt that given what the Fullbright Company were trying to do that this would be a "not game" for hipsters or something. It sort of is. But I feel that what I have to say must be said.
I dislike the concept of the "not game" being on Steam. I fucking hate that people try for this interactive experience and have to or choose to call it a game instead. And so for that reason I felt I would dislike Gone Home.
But, I didn't. Now, don't get me wrong, there are parts of Gone Home that are ridiculous, like after the first 30 minutes when they still try to play up the false horror aspect throughout the game, even though the story that you uncover makes that a complete moot point. I found the "Horror" aspect ridiculous.
But now, let's focus on the good parts. Okay, well though I went into the experience with an already formed opinion in my head (tumblr emo bullshit), I still tried to keep an open mind throughout the experience. I hesitate to call it a game. Don't get me wrong, it is a game technically speaking, but the issue I find with that is that -to me- there should be another... species... of thing that this would be. I call it an interactive experience. In terms of an open mind.
And so, I went in with the notion to explore. I would read everything, examine everything I could find, listen to every tape, turn on every light (there's this one note where the mom gives out about your characters tendency for leaving on lights further into it which I thought was funny), and just become absorbed by it. And for this reason, I find to look at it as not something to win but something to experience is the best way to "play" this.
There will be spoilers in this review, so please. Either try not to give a shit, or play it first.
Okay first things first, in order to get you into the swing of it, you have to get into the house. You look around, pick up some stuff, examine it,etc. Door's still locked. What do you do? Well I know what I do when I'm locked out of a house in real life, I look for the key under stuff. I find the key. I'm in.
The house is destroyed, things everywhere, notes everywhere, bathrooms a mess. The facade of something terrible happened here. Not going to lie, it gets old pretty quick.
Secondly, though there is noone around around we are introduced to the characters in this world. Mom, Dad, Sister Sam, Lonnie, and yourself. These are the players in your stage play of one. You never meet them, but their presence and personality is felt throughout.
As I delve deeper, beyond the horror facade we see their stories. This is the psycho house. Dad's uncle Oscar lost his mind, died and left Dad the house. They all up ship and move. Things happen.
Dad, as we come to learn through notes, letters, and books is a writer, sort of successful and sort of not. As we quietly go through rooms and letter among other things, a supremely interesting picture is given of the Dad. A man, struggling to be a writer, finally get's his first book off the ground after many rejections by a publish. An Accidental Savior is released by a Publisher. For any writer, one would think: "This is it, we made it. We're past the hard part". But sadly that's not the case, sales were low, and even lower on the followup and Dad's book was taken out of publication. He must instead make ends meet by reviewing Electronics and Music - a job he got with a favour from a condescending but well meaning friend. Even then, his own father the very accomplished author receives a copy of his first book, criticises it harshly but wishes him well. Without a word being spoken, I'm given the image of a very disheartened man trying to get out from under the shadow of his father, and to make his own way in the world.
Then, even with the reviewing job, it seems like he takes to writing long diatribes inconsequential to the review. He is still under pressure. This stress causes strained relationships with his wife.
As a character synopsis, this is pretty long and extensive for a character you never actually meet. The story of the father (struggle to success to struggle to success and trying to fix his marriage) is by far the most interesting thing to me. I really feel for the plight of trying to live a dream, getting so far and then having it snatched from you. It's interesting and somewhat relatable. Luckily, it seems like from a career standpoint that everything is coming up Milhouse, as his books were republished by a small niche publisher and he was able to get the inspiration to write a new one. All that's left now is to get his marriage back on track.
The mother, is probably the character we find out the least about, but who -in many ways- is characterised quite well. She is a conservationist, who is unable to connect with her husband anymore due to his stresses and instead seeks solace in another. This information is all either assumed (through the letter of high recommendation of colleagues, letters from a jealous friend, and followups). Her story is a difficult one to guage. It's both easy to empathise and despise her. From her point of view her husband is so caught up with other stresses that she feels neglected, while at the same time instead of helping and noticing that something is bothering her husband she goes to the arms of another.
I find the story of the mother to be fairly disinteresting but when put in combination with the father it becomes the story of a rough marriage where the husband is trying to fix it (They're supposed to be going on an anniversary trip but it's actually a couples counselling). It's truly sad, and uplifting. I really wish these fictional people well.
Following on from the parents is yourself. From looking around the house and at postcards, old homework assignments and trophies, you are a perfectly adjusted person. Both your parents love you, your sister is comfortable around, if not a bit jealous. You are, in many ways the golden child.
Now let's move on to Sam. Oh Sam, I both love you, and hate you so so much. Sam is 17, she's in a new school. Everyone is always staring at her, because they know: She lives in the Psycho House. It's hard for to make any real friends. Back in her old hometown she had a friend named Daniel. They were good friends, mostly because Daniel had a SNES. Sam borrowed the SNES, and now Daniel was looking for it back. According to Sam: Daniel got weird, and was hard to be friends with. No reason is given, but it becomes clear.
As we delve further into the house and all it's intricacies many things become clear. From one look at a homework assignment of SAM's she's a very creative and somewhat rebellious person. A story she wrote was responded by a note to her parents about it. Things are just off.
Anyways, Sam is in school having a bad time (Just when she thought she made a friend one of the guys plays a cruel joke and asks are all her family Psycho), when she sees Lonnie. She instantly wants to be friends with this cool military styled girl and her friends.
She hears her talking about playing street fighter on the arcade machine, and aims to find a way to talk to her.
In the meantime she practices Street Fighter at home, and there's a lovely sentiment to her really trying as she has the major Chun Li Combos written down for practice.
Nervously she makes her way to the 7/11 and asks for a turn. Despite her practice she is no match for Lonnie. Lonnie is going to come over some other day and play at home. A Friendship is made that day.
From anyones point of view we've all experienced a similar situation. WANTING to be friends with that particular person. And FINALLY, the opportunity presents itself. It's just so nostalgic in it's nature that -for me- it reminds me of my own experiences trying to make friends. But, this one goes so much further.
The influence we see on Sam's life by the presence of Bonnie is astounding. Beyond friendship, there is just sheer passion. Not just love, or friendship but pure unburdened passion. Sam becomes passionate about music, and gets back into creative writing (with a story about Allegra and her first mate). The influence she has is great, and no doubt a positive influence in her life, despite what her parents think when she wants to go into the city to see a band with Lonnie and stay at her Brother's house.
It is both there and before we begin to see the passions of Sam for more than just Music and Creative Writing. We see her passion for Lonnie. And it is this innocent and blossoming romance of physical and emotional love that we see that despite never meeting these characters it simply warms my own heart. Their passion, love, understanding and growth is amazing to experience throughout the story. It is the innocence of an early/first romance, the uncertainty and questioning of parents calling it a "phase" (Well it's gonna be a long phase mom and dad :) ), and the sheer overwhelming odds against Sam as she grew up (she wrote boys stories, and was different). It is the culmination of all these things and much more that make this truly worth experiencing.
One of my personal favourite parts in the Story of SAM is when Daniel comes to collect his SNES, and they talk for a bit. Daniel hands her a story she wrote when they were little. It's about a captain and her first mate Danyal. When she sees Sam says that she sobbed, and we know why. Because, earlier if you were paying attention she had written a newer story, about Captain Allegra and her first mate, who was taken by Amazonians and turned to a Woman, who loved the Captain with all her heart. There's not much to say about this, but when I was going through it, I really felt like skipping those stories (like I sort of did when I read Stephen King's Misery. I wasn't going to read the book within a book), but I'm glad I did. Because holy shit, when I saw that story she had written about the Captain and First Mate Danyal, knowing about the new version, everything just clicked. Wow. Daniel didn't suddenly become weird, she just didn't understand herself at the time. She was confused about herself, and so attributed it to Daniel. All of this was just so nice and uplifting. I honestly don't know how to describe how I felt about it.
Sam and Daniel and Lonnie was truly one of the most interesting stories I've ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Without Daniel's SNES, Sam and Lonnie would have never had occasion to meet.
And now, due to the stories Sam had been accepted to a Creative Writing school, and soon Lonnie would be off to basic training. Lonnie had joined the band, and was doing a Final Show before leaving and dedicated a song to Sam. Sam's pure excitement, love and general emotion when you hear it would really get to you. The voice actor for Sam was something special.
I'm not going to lie, but at a point when a diary entry blared up I was conflicted with how to feel about this voiceover narrative, as if you experienced it like me you could have probably gotten the entire story without it. And at some points it only served to tell what you were most likely assuming anyways. The voice acting WAS incredible, and touching, but at the same time, can feel a bit overwhelming. It has it's good and bads. To hear the love, excitement, fear and uncertainty portrayed by Sam's voice actor is truly an emotional experience, and one I feel really helped to drive home the narrative, but sometime would just rehash over what I'd already figured out.
Now, it would seem that this relationship, as discovered by Sam's Parents and considered a phase and with Sam heading off to college and Lonnie to basic training that the romance would have to be fleeting. I will say, that it is in the end the part that in some ways loses me, and feels a bit weak.
Lonnie leaves basic training and Sam forgoes school, and they leave together in love to roam the world.
It's a bit cheesy, sappy, romantic and lovely, I'm not going to lie. When I first heard this (before I'd played the game) I thought: "That's a bit ridiculous, they're being completely careless about what is essentially a teenage romance, and leaving their parents, no job, no future, leaving it all behind. How careless of them."
But now, I see it in a slightly different light: "Of course they're not thinking, they are in hopeless love with each other. There is nothing in their past, only their future, nothing else matters but each other. "
It is the feeling that neither can live without the other in their lives that made me smile, scoff at the cheesiness at it all, and also long for the simplicity of that. The innocence, careless and love these two portray is heartwarming to me.
I hate to say it, but this really got to me. I hate it for it, I really do. But holy shit. Words cannot describe how much of an absolute emotional idiot I am becoming from this. This is true story telling.
I loved Gone Home
Now Here's my issues with it:
-The overplayed horror aspect
-The ridiculousness of the narrative delivery in letters, notes, bills, old homework, assignments and so on is ridiculous. I don't care if they made it 1995. Letters being used like that were ubiquitous. It's interesting, but at the same time leaves itself open for nitpicking, claims of ludonarrative dissonance and feelings of an unreal and unrelatable world, which when coupled with the story it's trying to present can make for some serious hate.
-My computer can run Bioshock Infinite perfectly but struggled and stuttered the whole way through this.
-The father's story is in general much more enthralling and interesting, and sort of real world. More relatable. The main story DOES stink of 14 year special snowflake tumblrs. This will turn many off, and did me until I GOT it.
-Way too many empty ring binders to pick up.
-At 20 dollars it's way too expensive for it's time. Especially if you don't GET it. And it is hard to GET.
NOTE: When I say to GET it I don't mean as if it's some high and deep pretentous theme. I just mean that this DEFINITELY isn't for everyone. I mean it's VERY exclusive.
Anyways, thanks for reading. I loved what this was. I wouldn't mind more exploratory narrative. However the theme and delivery is going to be a real dealbreaker.