Review by Alyx Jones
Developer: The Fullbright Company
Composers: Chris Remo (plus music from Heavens to Betsy, Bratmobile and The Youngins)
Audio Engineer: Josh Millman
Voice Actors: Sarah Grayson (Sam), Sarah Elmaleh (Katie)
Reviewed on: Playstation 4
Gone Home is a first person exploration game by The Fullbright Company, sometimes referred to as “walking simulators”, with puzzle elements. It follows the journey of Kaitlyn as she arrives home after travelling, to discover nobody is home. She must uncover the clues hidden within the house to find out what has happened to her parents, and especially her sister Sam.
Katie arrives home amidst a heavy storm, with rain thundering down on the roof of the porch. The raging storm is unrelenting throughout the entire game, however there are a few points within the house that you can’t hear it. There is a slight issue with occlusion, in terms of when you stand about a metre from a window you hear the storm as you expect but as you approach the window the sound suddenly rushes in even though the window is shut. It’s not an easy thing to get right, but that’s one aspect of the game’s sound design that could have done with a polish.
The game toys with the horror genre in the sound design and with some of the visuals. Gone Home is certainly not a horror game. There are no jump scares and no threats, but we are wandering around an abandoned house late at night with no TV or phone signals (because of the weather), so it does feel a bit unnerving at times. The sound design plays into this horror dynamic with uses of creaks and noises coming from around the house, even though nobody is home. Sometimes there are long periods of almost silence (apart from the distant storm) and then creaks and groans, presumably from the old house structure can make you feel a bit uncomfortable. This is echoed in the house with moments such as, when you discover red marks on a bathtub, and the automatic conclusion is blood, but it turns out just to be red hair dye. It’s a common link between the graphics and sound, and the horror associations are a theme throughout the game but never done so far as to become scary.
Chris Remo brings his own flair of original music to Gone Home with a slightly haunting and mysterious vibe. Beautiful dark tones evolve and are coloured in places with more organic instruments. The amount of original music is only around 30 minutes worth, throughout the entire game (approximately 2 hours for an average playthrough). Music is used sparingly, but it does have a much greater impact when it plays, because it informs the player they are progressing but also is only used when segments of story are unlocked so it helps the player to understand the emotion behind the relationship between Sam and Lonnie, and of course the dynamic between the whole family.
Heavens to Betsy, Bratmobile and The Youngins‘ music is scattered throughout the house on cassette tapes that can be played if desired. It’s also possible to complete a play-through and never listen to a single rock song from the 90’s, but most players curiosity will probably get the better of them. There are themes throughout the game of the “riot grrrl” movement, a political and feminist punk movement from the 90’s. The music of females in punk was important to Sam and Lonnie, and the gigs they attended built up their relationship as well as the many stickers and badges with punk connotations, in all the places they hung out around the house.
Both voice actors did a good job of creating female protagonists that were honest, human experiences. Sarah Grayson in particular tells her story in a sensitive, yet powerful way and following her many spoken diary entries, allows us to get to know her and the incredible struggles she went through as a teenager. It is an interesting dynamic between the two sisters and the mostly untold reactions of Katie (who we play as), that leaves breathing space, for us to make up our own minds about how to react to the many discoveries we make.
A really awesome and powerful game, that will take you back to the 90’s, along with the many good and bad things that go alongside the passing of time. Definitely recommended for fans of great stories and an exploration of societies values.
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The Sound Architect