Home is where the Haunt is

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Between Humble Bundles and Steam Sales it’s a wonder that I still have my wallet. There’s nothing in it, but I still have it … for now. My latest purchase was The Humble Indie Bundle 12, which contains a slew of indie games, and one in particular that I wanted to play, Gone Home, by The Fulbright Company. Unlike most games I play, I didn’t get a referral from a friend on Gone Home. I just saw that it was in the Steam sale, read a few reviews, but had absolutely zero idea what it was about. Judging by the cover, it looked like I’d exploring the purple haze version of Luigi’s Mansion, so clearly a much more serious horror game. Let me tell you something about me and the horror genre. When it comes to horror movies, I don’t normally have a problem, but when I play horror games, in the dark, with headphones on, I’m as brave as Shaggy and Scooby after dropping acid in a haunted house. I still wanted to play it though! So I bought the bundle and loaded it up immediately.

You play as Katie Greenbriar, the daughter of the Greenbriars of Arbor Hill, and sister to Samantha Greenbriar. You were traveling the world and have gone home to reconnect with you family after your adventures. You take a midnight flight in, because you’re a cheap college student, and arrive at your front step to find … nothing. The house is locked, there is no sign of life inside, and a storm is whipping through the area. The only thing left is a letter on the door saying:
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Well that’s never a good sign …

 Thank god your family leaves a spare key with the Christmas Duck so that you can enter the mansion and discover where your sister and family went! You are then left to your own devices, in a massive mansion, looking for clues of what happened while you’re away. That’s where the beauty lies in this game. There are no quest objective markers, or hints. You have to rummage throughout the house, find keys and lock combinations, and break your way through piece by piece unraveling the mystery before you.

Standing in the front lobby of the mansion, I didn’t want to leave. The staircase, east, and west hallways were all dark, and I was convinced that something was going to jump at me if I entered those areas, prematurely ending my game. I quickly turned on the lights in the bathroom and picked up a box of tampons for comfort. That box was going to be my friend, my Wilson. After checking out the closet for any suspicious activity, I ran out of options and had to pick which scary corridor to go down first, and I decided that upstairs was the best option, because maybe I could hide under a bed.

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Now to cry under here for the rest of forever

That was my mindset for the entirety of the game, and gamers who have completed Gone Home know the truth of The Fulbright Company’s game, it’s not a horror game. Nothing jumps out at you. There is no ghost that moans and groans from eating too much Taco Bell. But the game is scary! How is this possible? The atmosphere is getting to you. Fulbright did a great thing, where the house has so much lore and collectibles that the more you read, the more it feels like you’re wandering around the set of the Shining. Long hallways, dark corridors, and some red herrings make you think the worst, when in actuality, there is no danger. As the thunder booms and the rain pounds, your brain is making monsters in the dark corners of Arbor Hill that are much more frightening than the Mr. Greenbriar’s porn collection. Once I finished the game, and knew the trick of Gone Home, I still freaked out at the creaking floorboards. The atmosphere is so well done that I would have played the game just the experience the scariest house in existence. However, the story really made me love this game.

Katie might be the player character, but the story is all about her sister Sam. You’re goal is to find out where she went. There were several times where I anticipated to find her body laying on the ground. An old Street Fighter Rival taking his game and revenge or maybe the parents killed each other after finding out that mom had an affair with Ranger Rick were my two theories. The truth is sweeter than fiction, so, without saying, spoilers. Samantha Greenbriar is a 17 year old girl, who found love. She fell in love with a girl named Lonny, and they ran off together. It sounds like a super simple romance story, which it is, but when you walk through hell and find clues and get to hear Sam’s voice tell you about high school and her love life, you feel comfort, but also attached to what happens to her. You don’t care that you had to suffer a heart attack from seeing your own reflection, so long as you know what happens to Lonny and Sam. I largely attribute that to the voice actors, and also the use of visual triggers to make you feel worry, love, and so much more. The ending, when you find out that Sam ran off to Lonny, has the emotional release and reward that should be felt from any video game. Either that, or I’m a sucker for a good romance.

In short, Gone Home is a wonderfully written and executed interactive story book that will keep your mind reeling for hours. My only complaint was its shortness, as I completed it in 2 hours with a snack break. Other people might take longer, depending on how long it takes them to get on the right track, or gather their nerve. Grab it now on the Humble Bundle, or on Steam. As for me, I’m going to go back to Arbor Hill and find out what happened to Mittens.

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Wait a minute … What the hell happened to Mom & Dad

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