Monday, November 11, 2013

Gone Home - First Impressions/Mini-Review (Text-Only Version)

When beginning to play Gone Home, one of the first games that came to mind was "The Uninvited", a point-and-click adventure game from the 90's, where you did not have to have fast 'twitch skills' to kill oncoming enemies or opposing players, but you had to be able to learn; searching, exploring a house and collecting and organizing information, all the time exposing more and more of the storyline (that you did not know fully at the outset) and that's what this game is [including being scary!].

Gone Home is an interactive story game, based mainly on exploration, played in the first-person [you 'look out through your character's eyes' as you move around] so, while it is not a 'point-and-click' adventure game, like Myst/Riven, any of the Quest series' (King's Quest, Police Quest, Space Quest, etc),  Day of the Tentacle and similar games, it definitely evokes ideas of exploring and analysis of the environment, as part of developing the story, as these types of games did.

Without giving away exactly what the storyline is, I will say the game craftily led me to believe many things that it wasn't (or did not not turn out to be). I thought, with the dark and scary, empty house (complete with rainstorm happening outside and the scary noises that go with it), it was certain to be a story lined with death or gore, but this game is not rated Mature and it is not "18+" rated either [although the main plot line is more for Teens than it is for Children, but then who is letting their child play 'explore the dark and scary house' games anyway?]. There were many elements, items and scripted moments, that lead you towards inferring things that the game is not - and while that is arguably a lower-brow tactic - it still does not take away from the overall feel of the game. Indeed, the overall enjoyment of the game itself is not affected by these little 'tricks', even if it does turn out to be somewhat self-defeating and make the ending seem somewhat anti-climactic as a result. While still fun in spite of all of this, this game is a prime example of 'the journey is more important than the destination/ending' - some may see this as a caveat and some will not.

A more obvious caveat with this game, is that it is short. Very, very short. As in, 'played-on-my-lunch-break-on-my-laptop-and-completed-it' short, if rushed through. While a review found online slated the game as "feeling like a longer demo" and while the material is simplistic and can be finished in an hour or two, I feel that this game is more like a dish at a fine restaurant: yes, you could gobble it up in minutes and leave, but what would be more enjoyable is to savour each moment, enjoy each bite and spend hours lingering and sampling, looking around and taking it all in over a longer period of time. If one's time is taken in the game, every nook-and-cranny is explored, every piece of evidence collected; much [much!] more enjoyment will be taken out of the experience than if one were just looking for how fast they can complete yet another title. I feel this game is meant to be gone through slow and enjoyed, like a good book.

Technically, the game's approach is simplistic too, with simple environments and sounds. The main sounds for the game are the storm outside, the creaking of the house (doors, drawers, etc) and the Narrator herself. There is only the one house to explore, but by the end it does not feel like it needed more (again, the simplicity of the game does not detract from the enjoyment of the game). What did impress me was the collection of textures [the materials on the shapes] that were used. The detail of the textures and clarity of them was fantastic. Wood and paper looked realistic, signs and labels could all be read easily, and the sheer variety of materials from the time period (whether photographed or created) was significant. The environment itself was meant to be a North American 1990's family house and it was represented wonderfully. If one lived in this type of setting in the 90's (and especially if you were 'coming of age'/a teenager during that time), you will be lovingly enveloped in decor, music and 'attitude' [mindset] of that decade.

While the story itself is simplistic (but meaningful) and the technical aspects are somewhat low-key, the winning element of the game is how the story is presented (the exploration). By exploring everything yourself, you are delving up the story at your own pace. As you go searching throughout the house, characters and plot lines are opened up and revealed to you. It is much like an interactive book. Given the financial and work-force constraints of the 'indie' development team (only three people at the outset, I believe), it was wise to pick a solitary character exploring an environment - and they did wonderfully with what they had on-hand. Utilizing the mindset of a teenager during that time (of calendar and of age), with creepy shadows and scripted sounds, the game engine is used well, in regards to portraying the story and setting, even if it is not exercised to it's fullest extent. Indeed, not using the game engine to inject excessive effects lends even more feeling to the reality of the environment and representation of the time period - where technology did not yet permeate every aspect of daily life.

I have to end this article by saying that some players and reviewers (especially in regards to the length of the game) have said that this is less of a 'game' as it is a 'demo' or 'art project' - but in the sense of competition or completion, they are somewhat correct - there are no other players to combat and no ending antagonist to overcome and you are seemingly placed in the middle of a story, playing out 'chapter three' in a person's life and then it is over. In that sense, it is not really a 'traditional' video game. If anyone were to ask me about the game, I am going to refer to it [as I have above] as more of an 'interactive book'. I could say that it is basically a point-and-click adventure game [like the ones stated at the beginning of this post] made after they were able to have "3D" graphics and as far as technology and storyline development, that's mostly true. But to me, overall Gone Home really is more akin to a short story. The characters aren't deeply developed and you experience only a portion of events in the life of the persons involved. Still, in the end these limitations don't go against the enjoyment of the game itself. You may or may not identify with the characters and what they are going through; but even if you do not, the presentation of the game is lovingly crafted and the overall experience of the game is enjoyable - even if that experience does not last as long we would like. But then, isn't that the same with every good experience in life?

See You At Home