Gone Home is an interactive exploration simulator game driven by its story. The premise is as follows: you come home from Europe to your, relatively, new home at 1 A.M. But no one is home. Where is your family? And what happened to your sister, Sam, who has left an ominous note on the door. This mystery serves as the game’s invitation.
I was drawn to Gone Home because it uses game play I’m, personally, unfamiliar with. Of course, the premise itself is not new: you walk around with one joy stick and look around with the other joy stick; you can manipulate some objects by clicking on them and throughout the game you read notes, look for keys, etc. However, I’ve never played a game like this and was determined to get out of my comfort zone.
Likewise, I don’t drink dark beers. And I had Great River Brewery’s Dos Pistolas sitting in my fridge for a week—too nervous to will myself to drink it. This week I chose a dark beer for a dark game. And neither were quite what I was expecting…
Gone Home’s launch trailer has a foreboding tone, which led some gamers (myself included) to expect elements of horror. This, however, is not the case and has left some people disappointed. After talking with people who had played the game, I knew it wasn’t horror but still expected to uncover something disturbing. When you’re in a large, dark, unfamiliar house, it’s natural to expect the worst. Each creak in the floorboard, each faulty lamp, becomes a harbinger of death. This led to an anxious first hour of the game as I waited to find a cove of limbs or some type of haunting. But the longer I played, the more comfortable I became. So in terms of realism, I thought the developers did an excellent job. I felt exactly how the character would feel: highly paranoid at first and then more at ease, but still on alert.
While Gone Home offers a variety of objects to interact with, some of them appeared too often. Being able to constantly interact with letters and documents makes sense for the story, but other objects (such as tissue boxes and markers) just became annoying. In the developer’s defense, I didn’t have to interact with those objects if I didn’t want to, but I still felt cheated. Moving these objects didn’t help advance or enrich the story, and, unlike turning on faucets, they weren’t stimulating enough to exist for their own sake.
But the focal point of the game is the story itself, and, I have to say, it won me over. And it definitely did not go the route I was expecting prior to playing (or even an hour or two into the game). The underlying message of the game is an important one, but I will spare you the spoilers. Just know, if you’re a curious person, the kind that just has to know what happens next, then Gone Home is for you.
That being said, Gone Home becomes a bit of a guilty pleasure because I take issue with the way the story is written. In the game, your sister Sam is 17, and “you” are a few years older. Throughout the story, you hear Sam’s diary entries and you see some postcards you wrote while in Europe. This writing can get a bit cheesy at times, and some of the diary entries feel like they’re trying too hard to be profound (then again, diaries are often poorly written). Throughout the game, you get to know Sam as a character, and, to be honest, she’s a little contrived. Sam is an angsty, budding alternative, 90s teenager. Fortunately, her possessions give her a few more dimensions than the aforementioned clichés—but still. It’s a great story that isn’t as well written as it should be.
What I loved most about Gone Home is how real it felt; I was completely immersed. It got to the point where a real-life knock at the door felt like it was part of the game’s narrative. While the mystery made the gaming experience stressful, the steady sound of rain and the cassette tapes you can play along the way were much needed comforts. I had a great time exploring the house, and I have to say, in all my years of gaming, I’ve never been so eager to reach the end. I was literally on the edge of my seat; when the game finally ended, I was taken aback with emotion.
Gone Home surprised me, and so did the beer I paired it with. The can boasts: “At long last, a dark beer that you do not have to be afraid of,” and the description is spot on. As someone who usually hates dark beers, I found this one easy to drink. However, I do not recommend it because it’s pretty boring. It’s so easy on the tastebuds that it fails to take any risks. As far as flavor, it tastes like a more palatable, muted, Guiness. I won’t drink this beer again, but I will definitely play Gone Home again simply because of the “modifiers and commentary” option. I can’t wait to go through this house again while hearing from the development team.
The Westport Independent paired with Blue Bridge Coffee Stout
Print media is dead. Nobody buys newspapers or magazines, everything is done online with the click of a mouse button. But it didn’t always used to be this way. Newspapers used to be the main source for current news, be it sports or political. And newspapers could be used to sway public opinion whichever way the writers and editors wanted them to. Just look at the Spanish American war. The game I’ve chosen for this week echoes a time when newspapers and print journalism mattered: The Westport Independent.
The Westport Independent is heavily influenced by Papers Please. You are an editor of a newspaper in a Soviet Union-esque 1980s country. In 12 weeks, the Public Culture Bill will be passed, which lets the government take over all news sources, effectively shutting down your newspaper. In that 12 week period, the current totalitarian regime tasks your paper with printing positive Loyalist news and turning a blind eye to all the rebels and chaos within the country. It’s your decision whether to be a government lapdog, rebel fighter, or simply shrug your shoulders and focus on celebrity news.
This game is more psychological than most other games I’ve played because you learn a lot about yourself by the end of your first playthrough. My first playthrough I focused on trying to gain as much viewership for my paper as possible; so I focused on printing whatever made the masses happy. Like today, this ended up being mostly fluff pieces and celebrity scandals (basically I was Keeping Up With The Kardashians). And by the end, my paper was extremely popular, but I had done nothing to combat the oppressive regime. As the end credits reminded me, the status quo was preserved and the elites remained on top, while the poor and working class suffered. I felt pretty guilty at the end because I hadn’t realized the power of the paper in the game’s universe. I had the opportunity to create change but unwittingly chose not to.
The Westport Independent is a game in the loosest sense of the word. It’s hard to describe the “gameplay” without choking on the word because you pretty much do nothing besides read short texts. The game opens with a brief projector style tutorial explaining what you should and should not print as an editor. You then receive your first batch of articles. Each article has a headline and three or four sentences. By clicking on the headline you can shift it from being pro government or neutral, to negative and anti government. You can censor articles by clicking on them and removing them from the article. These tools allow you to change a simple article about the president reading at a school to an inflammatory article about the president only visiting rich private schools and neglecting poor public schools. Your staff consists of four writers who have varying political beliefs. For instance, Frank is very pro worker, so I usually give him all my industrial articles. On the other side, Phil is pro government, so I would send him my pro government articles, like a massive firework display or a drop in the crime rate.
The country is divided into four districts. Each district has its own likes and dislikes. For instance, the Eastern and Southern districts are more working class and care more about industrial and crime news articles, while the rich Northern suburbs and the Western districts care more about celebrity and societal issues. By advertising your paper in specific districts and writing articles that will appeal to them, you can gain popularity in districts and influence them politically. Writing about the government scandals and industrial problems will lead to riots in the Eastern and Southern districts, whereas writing about celebrities or society news and targeting the rich Northern district renders the rebellion impotent.
The Westport Independent has intentinally retro graphics, much like Papers Please. The game is entirely in black and white and looks like a 1980s office and projector. The soundtrack is nice at first but gets old quickly. The soft jazz is pretty but loops every 30 seconds and becomes wearisome. It only takes about 25 minutes or so to complete the game, but there’s a lot of replay value because of the multiple endings. Based on the articles you publish and the districts you target, you control the outcome of the country. Do you want an anarchic revolution, the tightening of the totalitarian fist, or no change at all – the choice is entirely up to you.
I paired this game with something new for me, a Coffee Stout. I love coffee and cannot function as a molder of minds without my grande black coffee from Starbucks; and nothing makes you feel more like a journalist or an editor than a piping hot cup of coffee while you work. So I grabbed a coffee stout, and I am so glad I did. The Blue Bridge Coffee Stout from Coronado Brewing Company is fantastic. The stout is very smooth, dark, and the coffee adds a wonderful aftertaste to the beer. Like The Westport Independent, it is pleasant and relaxing. You sit down with both and don’t want to move as you sip on an excellent beer and bend the masses to your will.