The Fullbright Company's narrative-driven game Gone Home first landed on our laps back in 2013 when it launched on PC, and after that it was released on both PS4 and Xbox One. Now the game is heading to Nintendo Switch as of this month, and so we thought we'd rectify our shocking lack of review by providing one now. Better late than never. So, if you have yet to play this game at all or if you just want to know what it's like on the Nintendo Switch, join us as we fill you in on how Gone Home plays five years after its first release.
We'll address the fact that it's on Switch first of all by clarifying that it does indeed run well, both in handheld and when docked. Everything was smooth as far as we could tell, and everything is just as we remembered it from exploring the Greenbriar's house on other platforms. It won't be the same visual treat as on PC for obvious reasons, but this isn't a game about stunning 4K graphics; it's about the story it weaves.
If you've played Tacoma - Fullbright's release after Gone Home - you'll know that the team at this studio are the kings and queens of environmental storytelling. It's a testament to this fact that both give you exemplary narratives without a single character in either of them. Instead, they use objects within the world, narration, and a gently guided path to get the story across. This strength of the storytelling is as good in Gone Home as it is in Tacoma then, and it's definitely worth playing if you enjoyed the latter.
Since the game's only with us for a short time (3-5 hours, depending on how closely you snoop around the house) it's hard to talk about much of the story without spoiling it, but what we will say is that you play as Katie Greenbriar, who returns to her American family home after a trip around Europe. The trouble is that nobody's inside, and you have to figure out what's going on and unravel the lives of your parents and your sister Sam.
The biggest strength of Gone Home is getting these stories across to you in a cohesive order so that you understand what's going on. For example, Fullbright restricts what you can access in the house until you find certain keys and clues, so you can't rush ahead without exploring, and this, in turn, allows more and more of the narrative clues to reveal themselves. It's an excellent way of delivering plot without delivering anything at all really, instead relying on the player to find their way through it.
The pieces of the narrative puzzle are physical objects in the world, and they can range from a letter from your mother to a friend, to a note your sister receives from school. The only times this changes though is when you get narrated excerpts from Sam's diary for you to listen to, triggered by finding certain items. This then provides a basic skeleton for the game to work around, with everything else complementing these diary entries and informing our understanding of the family dynamic.
As the plot unravels and you get deeper into the story - and subsequently closer to figuring out why everyone has gone - the soundtrack gradually picks up pace. First of all, you'll only notice the ominous silence as you step into the dark house, pierced only by occasional claps of thunder, but soon the faintest bits of music appear alongside the diary entries to really give life and poignancy to the story events. Again, it's hard to talk about these without spoiling things, but trust us when we say the music really elevates the experience.
For first-time players Gone Home has a wonderful way of subverting expectations as well, a little bit like the reverse of Doki Doki Literature Club. We won't go into too much detail about how this works, but all we'll say is that the game positions itself as one genre by using certain tropes, before revealing something totally unexpected as time goes on. It's wonderful to witness and is one of those game experiences that can't be reproduced once you've finished it.
We've skirted around a lot of the content in Gone Home, because it really is one of those games where if you've said anything you've said too much. But what we do want to reiterate is that this is truly environmental storytelling at its finest, and when you mix it together with a lovely soundtrack, a very engaging and human story, and a touch of surprise, you've got a concoction that really sticks with you long after putting it down. It's a wonderful game that's been given a new lease of life on the Switch five years on, and we'd urge anyone who likes adventure games to pick it up.