Also available on Xbox One, OSX, Linux, and Windows
Gone Home is, in my opinion, the finest of what the relatively newly popularized "walking simulator" genre has to offer. This game is at once both grossly engaging and completely relaxed and laid back. It's also free for PS+ members right now (which is how I got it), and I STRONGLY encourage you to add it to your library while you can do so for free just on the off chance that you decide to give it a shot.
In Gone Home, you play as Katie, a girl who has just gotten back to her family's home in Oregon from a long trip to Europe in the middle of night (apparently late-night flights were cheaper). Being that this is 1995, cell phones weren't a thing (unless you count those god awful ugly and book-sized car phones like the one my mom used to have), so she has leaves a voicemail message on the house's answering machine that she'll be in late that night (apparently it was a short-notice plan change), but she gets home to find the house empty. Ooo, mysterious. Where are her mom and dad? Where is her little sister, Sam?
You go through the house at your own pace (and Jesus, this house is huge) as you explore each room, opening cabinets and (if you're like me) compulsively flushing every single toilet in the entire mansion. Along the way, you find little clues to the family's life and situation - here's the mom's work coat, here's a letter from the dad's boss, here's Sam's report card, etc. You also get to dig into some of the family's history, not all of which is sunshine and roses. The game takes place late at night, as I said, but also during an extremely severe thunderstorm, and as such, the electricity flickers a bit. Mix that with the fact that you're in a massive house all by yourself, and the atmosphere established can be downright creepy at times.
What really stood out to me most about this game was the attention to detail. You can pick up and examine things as insignificant as a roll of toilet paper, and that will likely lead most players to wasting a LOT of time examining EVERYTHING on the off chance that there's a clue or even just a random tidbit of information. There are a few "puzzles" - and I put that in quotes because it's a stretch to call it there - where you have to find locker combinations, some necessary to finish the game and some just supplemental for story. It also provides a subtle but effective glimpse into some of the social struggles of the mid-90s. To me, especially, this was interesting as I was a little kid during the mid-90s (I was three when this game takes place), so it gave a very personal view of a period I'd mostly only seen through the impersonal lens of academia.
What makes this story so engrossing (and it is EXTREMELY engrossing) is the truly smash-up job the writers do with characterization. By the middle of the game, you really start to feel like you're getting to know Sam (as most of the direct story and narration are provided through her journal entries). When you hear or read about something good that happens to her, you smile with her. You fear for her. Your heart breaks for her. Few games have made a character feel this REAL to me in the past. It's because of that that the ending of the game - the last ten or fifteen minutes if you're going through the game at a leisurely, exploratory pace - so emotionally straining. You're given vague mentions of what may have happened to Sam and your parents - suggestive enough to lead to some horrifying guesses but vague enough to have holes aplenty in any theory you devise.
Now this type of game is not for everyone. There are no enemies. There is no combat. There is no way to lose. This is a journey through the eyes of a girl 20+ years ago to find out why her family is mysteriously not at home when she gets back from an extended vacation. Did some tragic fate befall them, or is there a more benign answer waiting to be discovered? This game is very much how I imagine Myst would have been made had it been developed 20 years later. The feel I got playing this was very similar to the feel I got while playing Myst (minus the frustration at my inability to figure out what the fuck was going on on that god damn island). Regardless, I STRONGLY recommend that everyone give this game a try. It won't be to everyone's liking, but those of you who like a game with well developed characters and a fascinating plot, you would be remiss to forego this one.
My Rating - 5 Neps
I'm Mr. Deck
And I like to play video games. I like to collect video games. I like to talk about video games, and I like to write about video games. During the day, I teach history at a high school in central North Carolina; during the night, I spend my spare time gaming. Then I write about it.