Gone Home Review

I wasn’t going to play Gone Home. I read some articles and watched some YouTube videos about it, but it didn’t seem like my kind of game; it didn’t sound like a game at all. After reading Gone Home was being nominated, even winning, Game of the Year from gaming outlets, I figured I’d better check it out. I wasn’t sure if I was going to like it. I gathered it was about a daughter who comes “home” after an extended period of time being away. I figured it’d be you just wandering around the house, and really no game play. For the most part, it is; however, it is one of the few games that can pull it off.

Gone Home is a narrative driven exploration game. The story is told from the first person perspective of Katie, a daughter who has been away from her home for a year. However, she didn’t grow up in this house. Mom, Dad, and sister moved to a new house while she was away. You arrive, late at night, fresh from the airport. A thunderstorm is howling outside. You approach the front door, and notice a mysterious note from your younger sister, Sam. It appears no one is home. The front door is locked, but you find the spare key easily enough. This is how the game starts, and it sets up the atmosphere of the game perfectly.

You wander around the house, interacting with various objects. You learn a few things about Mom and Dad, such as why they moved. You find out what the family has been doing since you left. The main story of the game is actually the story of Sam, and how her life has changed since you’ve been gone. When you interact with certain objects audio diaries from Sam will begin to play. Apparently, you were lucky, because Sam had to go to a new high school. She left all of her old friends behind. I don’t want to spoil too much more, but it is more interesting than it sounds. I’ll get to why in a bit.

Most of the rooms have their doors closed, and the lights off. You go into the room, and flip on the lights. You can interact with almost everything in the room. These items give you a glimpse into the lives of the people you haven’t seen in a year. As you progress through the house, you need to find keys and combinations to open locked doors and storage areas. While you are doing this, the thunderstorm is still clattering outside, and the low, bass-filled music quietly tickles your eardrums. The world is crafted to give you this experience, which is why I think it is important to tell you the emotions I felt.

There isn’t much for gameplay, but the emotions the game imparts is what makes the game special. I feel only a video game could tell a story such as this. The sound of the thunderstorm was organic. It didn’t feel like a short set of sound effects on a loop. The storm got loud and you would be very aware of it; other times it was quiet and hardly noticeable. The house made house noises! Air expanding in pipes, floors creaking for no reason, clicks and pops! It truly felt you were in the house all by yourself. I played the game while I was home alone, with the lights off, and with headphones on. This was an excellent choice, and I recommend you play the game this way as well.

I experienced feelings of curiosity, creepiness, comfort, relief, worry, and hope all throughout this game. I was curious to know what my family has been doing. Walking down hallways, having just read about the previous owner of the house, gave me the creeps. I was comforted to see my parents kept my postcards I sent from Europe. I was constantly switching between worried and relief when I read and heard the adventures of my little sister. I hoped the next journal entry from my sister left her in a better place than the previous entry. In the end, the game made me feel like Katie. These people that I used to know had changed, and there was so much I wanted to learn about them.

Should you play this game? This game, that has very few of the normal gameplay tropes. Yes, you most definitely should play this game. Games that don’t have the normal gameplay tropes are usually not games in my opinion, but Gone Home is able to capture emotions in a way only a video game can. If a movie, or a book tried to tell this story, it would not be able to get anywhere close to being as good as Gone Home. You owe yourself this experience. I’m not going to say that it’s for everyone; there are few absolutes. But I would recommend this to every one of my friends, gamer or non gamer. If that doesn’t convince you, then I’d say that the small studio, who made this game, is made of people who worked on the Bioshock franchise. So, they know how to do this narrative and atmosphere thing. I sincerely hope you check this game out.

Antichamber Review

Antichamber

Screenshot from Antichamber.

I recently bought and finished Antichamber. It’s an indie title made by a handful of people. It was released earlier this year. I bought it on a Steam sale and decided that I should get acquainted with it. I didn’t want to spoil the game, so I only posted one screenshot so that you can get an idea of what the game looks like.

Antichamber is a puzzle-exploration game. Each corridor opens up to a new puzzle. At the beginning, you can only run, walk, jump, and learn the rules of the environment. Figuring out these rules helps you progress through the game much faster, but it does take a bit, because the game does not hold your hand, and rarely follows normal first person game tropes. One example, which is a MINOR SPOILER, is you will run down a hallway and turn the corner to reveal two sets of stairways. Going up one set of stairs puts you back at the beginning of the corridor with the two sets of stairways. Going up the other set of stairs, also puts you back at the beginning of the corridor with the stairways. Turning around and going back the way you came is the only way to progress from this puzzle. END MINOR SPOILERS.

There are some minor hints throughout the game, but it is mainly up to you to figure out the rules. As you progress, you get items to manipulate the world, which adds more depth to the puzzles. Figuring out the rules of the game and solving puzzles is immensely satisfying. I played the game without any assistance for about two hours. This allowed me to get comfortable with the rules of the game. After that point, I looked up a spoiler free guide, which just had a bunch of tips. That guide came in handy without spoiling the game for me. There were two puzzles that absolutely stumped me. On each one I spent about an hour before caving in and looking up a guide for it. One of them I was on the right track, but required a very specific way of the getting the solution, and I didn’t have the patience to use trial and error to achieve the goal. The other one I was just plain stupid.

There’s no story, at least not in the standard, narrative way. There’s no disembodied voice guiding you through the puzzles. There’s no cut scenes. There’s no talking at all. It’s just you exploring. There are posters guiding you along and giving you minimal hints, but that’s about it. There is an end, but it is very open ended allowing you to craft your own reasoning for why you are in this world, and what exactly you are doing. I was very satisfied with the ending of this game.

Graphically, the game is interesting. As you can see from the screenshot above, it’s mostly a black and white world, but seemingly random things are colored. Some of the colors from puzzles match up to a required item that you get later in the game, so that helps so you aren’t trying to solve a puzzle that you just cannot solve at the time.

Antichamber has very minimal sounds, but the sounds that are there really creates a creepy, but comforting atmosphere. That’s the best way I can describe it, even though it doesn’t make much sense. There’s subtle music going on most of the time. Sometimes you’ll hear the fluttering of birds. It’s weird, but it completely fits the atmosphere of the game. I liked it a lot.

Antichamber is definitely not for everybody, but I thoroughly enjoyed my time with it. It really depends on your tastes. If you are up to a weird indie titles, then definitely recommend it. If you have an open mind and want to look into some indie games, this is a good game to start. It’s definitely worth the cost of admission. I clocked in at over 10 hours and solved all of the puzzles.

One thing that popped into my mind that I should let you know about. The game crashed right away when I first installed it. A quick look at the Steam forums for the game revealed a quick solution. I wanted to let you know so you don’t get frustrated if you do decide to buy it. It was created by a handful of people, so I give them some slack.