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(Gone Home has been selected as one of MacLife's 25 Best Mac Games Today!)
There's no wrong way to play Gone Home, the quiet, thoughtful, and deeply introspective first Mac game from the newly-minted Fullbright Company, but there is an ideal way: at night, lights off, with headphones wrapped around an open mind.
Set in a sprawling mansion in rural Oregon in 1995, Gone Home tells the story of the Greenbriar family; players control Kaitlin, who has just returned from a year abroad to discover that her mother, father, and younger sister Sam are nowhere to be found. By searching the empty house, peeking into diaries, and rifling through the mail, Kaitlin pieces together her family’s recent history – and more pressingly, their whereabouts.
Gone Home is primarily about exploration and investigation, with a delicate, restrained story told deftly and effectively. Creaky floorboards, spotty electrical wiring, and a thunderous lightning storm give the air of a horror game, but Gone Home touches on a range of emotions, from uncertainty to fear and poignant sadness. Everything from Sam's bittersweet first love to Terry Greenbriar's faltering career are handled with grace and care.
The Arbor Hill mansion that houses the four-hour story is stocked with the detritus of everyday life – like toothbrushes, old bills, completed homework assignments, and mid-90's rock-and-roll mixtapes – all of which can be poked, prodded, and examined. Gone Home's finely detailed realism is fun to interact with, but it also serves and amplifies the emotional gut punch waiting for players at the end of the game, complimented by excellent voice acting. The tiny, constrained world of Gone Home feels realistic and consistent throughout, and it characterizes the people that live there, even though they never appear on-screen.
There are no puzzles, strictly speaking, but Gone Home asks that its players pay attention and appreciate its archaeological treasures. Some areas of the house are locked at the outset, and you'll need to find the appropriate keys to move forward – but spending a little more time in each room has its own payoff. Making connections between, say, Sam's Ouija board and the mysterious Uncle Oscar will give you insight into Terry and Jan's more recent marital troubles, for example, which leads into a better understanding of Sam's own issues. The realism of Gone Home's setting is matched by an incisive understanding of difficult family relationships.
Fullbright's attention to detail is the hook that pulls players into Gone Home, its world, and its story, and each X-Files VHS recording or empty whiskey bottle is perfectly placed to allow the Greenbriars’ emotional turmoil to play out naturally and organically. Bolstered by smart, honest writing, Gone Home proves that games don't need grotesque aliens or campy scares to be gripping, fascinating, and worthwhile.
The bottom line. Members of the Fullbright Company cut their teeth working on the BioShock series, and it shows. These are masters of setting, tone, and interactive storytelling, and Gone Home is excellent.
Mac OS X 10.7 or newer, 1.8GHz processor, 2GB RAM, Intel HD Graphics 4000
Poignant, evocative story that takes advantage of smart writing and pacing. Does more with its characters in a couple hours than most games do in 20.
Non-traditional and brief approach may catch players off-guard.