The lights are on
For a just over a year, an independent studio in Portland has worked on an intriguing new exploration game, curiously though, this studio consists of a team of only four, living and working in the same house. They call themselves The Fullbright Company. Individually the members of this studio have worked on projects such as XCOM, Bioshock Infinite, and first worked together on the acclaimed Bioshock 2 DLC, Minerva's Den. In 2012 they set off on a risky mission to start their own studio, and created their first game, another exploration story known as Gone Home.
Set in 1995, the story follows college student Katie, returning from a year in Europe, only to find an empty home, and missing family. You proceed to explore the house and unravel its secrets, mainly following the journal entries left by your younger sister. Her name is Sam, and through journal entries, you learn how she handles an awkward time in her life. From moving to a new school her final year of high school, to how she deals with concepts such as alienation, conflicts with parents, followed by teen defiance, and lastly young love. The Fullbright Company excels at bringing her to life, making you feel for the character.
While releases this year have been one triple-A shooter after another, Gone Home provides a much-needed break with its phenomenal narrative and depth of exploration. With your options limited to "move" and "interact with object," the controls are as basic as you can get, allowing Sam's story to take control. Sam's journal entries have a tendency to keep you wanting to find the next piece of the puzzle, however it is impossible to help yourself from exploring every nook-and-cranny, unveiling the home's secrets!
If you spend enough time in a friend's house while they are away, dig deep enough, you could discover a myriad of private things about their family. This game excels at exploiting that concept. As you explore, Gone Home leaves the perfect amount of clues, leading you to connect enough dots and discover each family members dirty secrets. It is amazing how deep you will go, whether it be Dad's success as an author, Mom's ability to balance a job and family, or the mystery of their strange relative Oscar, to whom the house originally belonged. While the graphics are nothing amazing, the meticulous detail of the house opens a door to unbelievably in-depth exploration, surprisingly standing up against current releases such as Bioshock, or Skyrim. While exploring, you soon realize that every object, no matter how trivial, has a purpose to serve.
Unfortunately, my love of the game comes from that which I have to say the least about, Sam's story. The powerful narrative is beautifully constructed, thanks especially to Sarah Robertson for providing a congruous voice to Sam. From reading the first note on the door, stating she wishes you not to go digging, to her last voiceover journal entry, specifically directed at you, it becomes clear she wanted you to move from clue to clue and learn what had happened in the year you had been gone.
The game exceeds at immersing you into Katie's shoes, limiting sound effects to the creaking floorboards and lightning, sprinkling in ambient music at the perfect moments. Each object in the game places you into the 90s mindset, from Sam's favorite Riot grrrl tracks to a plethora of products that, at the time, were big. Gone Home also succeeds in pushing the mysterious tone, from the random noises, to flickering lights, and eerie situations. For instance walking into a long hallway just as the lights blew out and lightning struck left me feeling very abandoned.
The Fullbright Company took huge risks with this title, and many people may feel wary, due to the short duration of the story compared to the price. While replayability falls around moderate, if you enjoy even an ounce of story in games, the initial playthroughs narrative is so emotional and relatable, that Gone Home will be on your mind hours after completion. The Fullbright Company and their first game are a perfect example of high risk, high reward.
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