It’s Guest Review Wednesday and amazingly we have a new Guest Review by a brand new Guest Reviewer. Please welcome reader Jackie S, who has offered to take a look at a game that got a lot of buzz in lesbian/female/gaymer circles. A games that got so much buzz, in fact that I even heard of it. ^_^
Take it away Jackie!
There are spoilers in this review.
In the computer game Gone Home, by the Fulbright Company, the year is 1995. You play 20-year-old Kaitlin Greenbriar, who has just returned to the US after a year abroad in Europe. You arrive after midnight at the new home your family moved into while you were away, but discover that no one is home. The object of the game then is to explore the house and discover clues regarding the whereabouts of your family.
The main narrative focus of the game and major point of interest for Okazu readers is the story of your 17-year-old sister, Samantha. Without her older sister around to confide in, Sam decided to write about her year as a series of journal entry “letters” addressed to you. As you progress through the house, you unlock narrations of Sam’s letters. Her entries tell the story of moving to a new school, being intrigued by another girl, finagling a way to meet said girl, becoming friends, becoming girlfriends, and their relationship from there.
First off, Sam is a fantastic, interesting character. She passes the “Would I invite this character over for lunch?” test with a resounding YES. Example: About three rooms into my exploration of the house, I found her assignment for health class lying around. It was a pretty awful assignment about the reproductive system – put sentences about “The Menstrual Cycle” or “The Life of a Sperm Cell” in order – that included the gag-worthy line “It is incredible how the female body knows how to prepare for pregnancy!” She had done the assignment and put them in order… within the context of a tragic, wartime romance story. (^_^) Unfortunately (but unsurprisingly) the teacher seemed to lack a sense of humor…
When Sam first sees Lonnie, her eventual girlfriend, she’s interested from the get-go. She hatches a plan to interact with her by challenging her to a game of Street Fighter, which doesn’t go quite as smoothly as planned (she gets her butt kicked) but accomplishes the main goal of making contact. Sam’s excitement as they start hanging out is obvious, and later her fervent hope that she’s reading the situation right really rang true for me. (A lot of this can be attributed to very good voice acting done for the narration.) It took me a while to realize, but Sam never questions her sexuality or her being in a relationship with another girl. She knew before the timeline of the game started that she likes women (“since, like, She-ra,”), and seems to have already accepted that as a part of who she is. That doesn’t mean, however, that she doesn’t struggle with parents, friends, and classmates knowing/finding out. The biggest issue for Sam, though, is the future of her relationship with Lonnie. Not because they’re gay, but because Lonnie, who is a year ahead of her, is in JROTC and planning on joining the army right after graduating. And then she’ll just be… gone. All of the issues in Sam’s life seem to be coming to a head as you near the end of her storyline and progress to the attic of the house. Honestly, I was a bit worried about what I would find in the attic…
Thank goodness they didn’t decide to use the “lonely, rejected gay teenager commits suicide” trope. The ending is a little bittersweet, but also hopeful, and avoids a too-neatly-wrapped, unrealistic happily-ever-after ending.
For me, one of the best things about Gone Home was how real it felt. Even though you never meet them, your family members feel like real people, especially Sam. The house feels like a real home that people actually live in. The level of detail the creators put into all of the STUFF in the house is pretty incredible: books, recorded VHS tapes, mugs, pads of paper, soda cans, bottles, and so much more, most of which you can pick up and inspect more closely. (I tend to spend way more time than necessary in games exploring every nook and cranny, but in this game that tendency was rewarded with all sorts of interesting discoveries! Like Dad’s adult magazine collection! 0_o) The nostalgia factor is also strong – it really feels like 1995 in there. The music, sound effects, and lighting combined to create an atmosphere that really fit how I would feel exploring a strange, empty house during a thunderstorm (of course) after midnight. Heck, I had to keep reminding myself that I wasn’t playing Resident Evil, and no one was going to jump around a corner at me wielding a chain saw. Which I sometimes have to remind myself of walking around my OWN not-strange house at night during storms.
Visuals – 8 Not the most visually stunning or beautiful game I’ve ever played, but the sheer level of detail of all the different knickknacks and paraphernalia is quite impressive.
Controls/Gameplay – 9 I don’t usually play computer games (more of a console gamer), but I picked up the controls pretty easily. I really liked being about to pick up and interact with so many things in the house. It took me about 3.5 hours to beat the game, and while I think I missed a couple things, I’m pretty sure I found most items of interest. YMMV on how much replay value there is and whether it’s worth spending $20 for a 3-4 hour game. (Though I got it on sale for $10!)
Story – 10 For two reasons: 1) Sam’s storyline by itself isn’t exactly groundbreaking, but as far as I’m aware it’s the first time such a story has been the main narrative focus of a game that isn’t a visual novel/dating sim/whatever. 2) I haven’t really talked about it, but the stories you can piece together about your Mom, Dad, and the great-uncle who willed the house to your dad are also fascinating, if much harder to suss out than Sam’s.
Characters – 10 Sam alone gets this, but reason #2 in my story rating also applies.
Yuri – 10 The main storyline is about a lesbian, in a lesbian relationship. It is not a “Story A” AND
**SPOILER** doesn’t end with any gay teenagers committing suicide. \(^,^)/
Service – 0 Because finding your Dad’s porn stash is more of a disservice…
Overall – 10 For what this game is trying to be, it does a fantastic job.
Erica here: Thank you Jackie for this review, it certainly sounds like it deserved all the praise it received. And Steam runs sales all the time. ^_^