Anger is a prominent part of my life.
I play a lot of competitive games, and have done so for a large chunk of my life, ever since the wee days of couch-tourneys of Perfect Dark and Mario Party with my extensively large family. That’s where my problem lies, and since then, I see myself as a jagged blade when it comes to every firefight and battle. Not that this has anything to do with today’s subject, but Gone Home is the only walking simulator I’ve ever played that has given me the same amount of anger that competition has.
This mysterious mystery of mystical proportions comes to us The Fullbright Company, a US-based developer who’s brightest star is Steve Gaynor, former worker at 2k. He, and other parts of Fullbright, dabbled in a little bit of everything, from F.E.A.R. and The Bureau: XCOM Declassified, to Bioshock 2 and it’s expansion, Minerva’s Den. Now, they simply work on walking sims, with their most recent being TACOMA (which we reviewed!).
Gone Home tells the story of Katie and Samantha Greenbriar, with the framing device being Katie’s perspective. She returns to her parents house after taking a break in Europe, and finds the house desolate and empty, with Sam urging her not to investigate what happens. With her family instincts kicking in, she decides to explore what happened and hopefully figure out why the place is a mess.
Since I’m playing the Console Edition for the purpose of this review, I was delighted to see that there was a tutorial, just replace the world “delighted” with “enraged”. I get the prejudice towards console players being dumber than a sack of hammers, but this is just petty. There’s not much to do in the case of Gone Home, and the fact the game has the audacity to remind me what the left and right sticks are used for just pisses me off.
This is one of many, many, many problems that face Gone Home throughout your eight-minute playthrough. Speaking of, the length is insulting, even for a walking simulator. It doesn’t even count as a well made film, with the pacing controlled by the player. Dear Esther, while being ultimately boring, manages to keep a well-thought story throughout, with there being just enough around this Scottish island to stop you from cutting your throat open.
There is interaction in Gone Home, but it seems pointless for most things to BE interactive. I understand letters and books that relate to the characters but food? Newspapers that don’t relate to the story? Plates and cups? (duhh, 1 cup iz red becuz sam iz thuh black shep, oho, grayde skool symbolism) It’s bulky, unnecessary and doesn’t even add to an hour long experience.
Over time, with journal entries being told through the voice of Sam, you’ll see that Sam herself is a victim of prejudice, in a sense. It’s only been a year or so since she moved into the house you’re exploring, and it has a reputation behind it, with many people dubbing it “The Psycho House”. One such person who is foaming at the mouth to explore it is Lonnie, a girl who approaches Sam with a friendly air around her, which is to Sam’s pleasure as she has also kept an eye on her.
As Sam & Lonnie become closer in their friendship, you discover notes and crumpled pieces of paper, detailing the house blueprints under the pretension that there’s a supernatural presence across the house. The ghosting duo record possible paranormal activity that takes place around the rooms, and admittedly it’s kind of cute. It adds a spooky air around the story, and it’s the only reason it’s being covered for Spooktober. Now, if only they could keep the horror tone goi- Yeah, no, that isn’t the case.
No, there’s no horror element. Despite the fact that the supernatural implications are present throughout, with a ouija board and newspaper clippings everywhere, creepy paintings and a pissing pentagram located underneath the stairs, the supernatural presence is non-existent. The real story? Sam is in a relationship with Lonnie. Mmm. LGBT flavour text.
Before the pitchforks aim for my throat, let me reiterate that the cause of pushing for more LGBT representation in video games is a valid cause that I rally for. As someone who is bisexual, I push for it to be more than the butt of jokes, and I mean distasteful jokes. It’s been years since narrative in video games has evolved, and it’s only until the last generation of gaming, that LGBT representation has managed to become much more of a prominent factor in writing.
It can be done well and has been throughout many games. Masquerada: Songs and Shadows, the Mass Effect trilogy, even GTA IV was able to convey LGBT manners and relationships in a more realistic and mature tone than what it is in Gone Home. In Gone Home, it’s more token than anything, and it never evolves into something you care about.
In audio transcripts, Sam talks of her love for Lonnie and their experiences in strained metaphors that nobody has ever used, with bated breath as if people will hear her, despite the fact this was written in a diary. It’s clear that Sam wants more for them and that she sees a future, despite the fact that Lonnie is, at the time of their relationship, in the JROTC.
It’s well-written, thought-provoking and for me, it personally bought back memories of lost boyfriends that never came back to me. The ones you love the most burn the brightest, but the light fades twice as fast and with this thought in mind, you see only uncertainty for the future of Sam and Lonnie. Well… you would see that if it ended in a proper manner.
If you actually focus on the relationship, you’ll notice that before any proper ending can be established with a satisfying conclusion. It ends with Sam’s parents in denial. That’s it. Sam says it’s silly and that’s it. What am I supposed to do? Establish hatred upon myself for the fact that one of their daughters isn’t “duh true hooman way”? See Sam’s family as people behind the times? Piece together that the reason their marriage is failing is because they can’t accept their daughter as a lesbian? NO. NO, YOU DON’T THAT.
You don’t piece together what you THINK might happen, especially when this game just ends abruptly as it is. Sam and Lonnie run away together, and the future of Sam’s parents as husband and wife are unknown. Where’s my closure? Where’s my elation that Sam’s feelings win in the end? What, is her running away to meet her first love closure enough? Yeah, that’s great, with no money, no car and no chance for forgiveness from Sams parents? The best of fucking luck to you two.
“Oh, maybe Lonnie’s parents will provide shelter!” Not very likely, as they’re another part of the puzzle omitted for absolutely no reason, and there’s the death knell for the entire game. The reason for its failure as not only a game, but as a push for more LGBT representation in video games. There’s not enough for a story, since it always feels like part of a chapter. There’s no other peers, sources of information or simple background detailing Lonnie. All we have is Sam’s word and clearly, I’m not going to believe somebody furiously blinded by love.
It’s not just Lonnie’s parents that are omitted from the game. Sam’s dad is apparently obsessed with the assassination of JFK, and his books chronicling the massive conspiracy have sold awfully. Why is he obsessed with the assassination? What was his reasoning for believing in such a thing? Is it more fulfilling than his current occupation as a reviewer of tech? I mean, yeah, if I was in the same line of work as Dean Takahashi, I’d think about switching career paths too.. What do you mean Takahashi reviews games?
Why did Kate travel to Europe in the first place? What were her goals? Why is Sam such a bitch towards her former neighbour, the supposedly creepy Daniel? Why are the cassettes with songs on them clearly recorded in a .WAV format, when they should have the quality of a YouTube video buffering on the Mars Curiosity Rover? Is this all childhood fantasies? The makings from a mind daydreaming, as day-to-day life is boring? Why is the mystery something that fits the day-to-day theme then? This is all Gone Home has for you. Questions. With only one answered “kind of”.
The ending of Gone Home isn’t wonderful, it isn’t sweet to see two women bet their lives on possibly dying down the road in a few weeks. It’s stupid. Wholeheartedly stupid, insanely stupid, it’s fucking stupid to see a demented fantasy be regarding as “touching” or “moving”. I don’t care if it’s what Sam wants, don’t leave everyone at the deep end with such a non-ending like that.
In the end, Gone Home is bad, even for walking simulator-standards. There’s too much focus on pushing for one agenda, and not enough on crafting a thoughtful journey. This is more of a problem for free-roaming walking simulators in general. Dear Esther had the right idea by keeping everything to a dense, but understandable wavelength. The Turing Test challenged the mind with a comprehensive analogy of human conditions. Here though? It’s watered down to cater to a crowd that couldn’t care less about narrative, unless it fit their agendas.
It’s like The Sopranos, where it cut mid-scene. That stills annoys me..
What, you were expecting THAT joke? Of course not..
A experience wafer-thin, on par with a choose-your-own-adventure book, with half the pages torn out.