PC game proves there's no place like home [Times-Herald, Vallejo, Calif.]
(Times-Herald (Vallejo, CA) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Oct. 14--The video game industry is addicted to combat. Story-telling in games has been so intertwined that the general public can't really help but link them together.
Three of the best games I've played so far this year bear this out: "The Last of Us," "Bio Shock Infinite" and "Grand Theft Auto V." All of them are amazing games for different reasons yet the same in this respect -- each one requires violence to tell a story.
In most years, those three would be in the running for game of the year, but at this point the top spot belongs to "Gone Home." This game isn't known a whole lot outside of the gaming community because it isn't out on console. It's only available through a digital distribution service on PC and Macintosh called Steam.
The game was developed by an independent studio from Portland, Ore., called the Fullbright Company. The team that worked on "Gone Home" are familiar with the AAA game industry and have worked on big budget games similar to the ones I've mentioned.
What they did was take all of the things that make those big-budget games great and stripped away all the filler. Nobody dies in this game, nor are you required to shoot anything. There aren't any special powers or things to fight. The main character doesn't even have the option to run.
What's left is the fundamental need to explore a space and figure out why you are there. That is the only motivation needed to play through this game.
The premise is simple: You play as a woman named Katie, who just came home after a year-long trip to Europe. She returns to the empty family home on a dark and stormy night. She finds a note on the door suggests that her sister Sam ran away.
Katie uncovers the story of what happened to each person in this house while she is away without ever speaking to anybody. She does it indirectly, by picking up items as she walks through the house.
It's a story that works because it is a video game. There is no director or author dictating how the story unfolds. The narrative is dependent on exploration with each character becoming more fleshed out as I pick up different items and progress through the house.
This house is a portrait of suburban life in the mid 1990s and the things Katie finds makes this world authentic. Mix tapes of Riot Girl songs, Super Nintendo cartridges, VHS tapes of the "X-Files" episodes and teen magazines about 90210 among other things.
What she finds says a lot about the dynamics of this family and what happened to Sam. In the fathers study there are books about dealing with troubled teenagers and in the living room is a book given to Sam about making friends at school.
The only other voice in "Gone Home" is Sam reading aloud from her journal at specific points in this game. Her story is heartbreaking, unexpected, yet it's also typical.
If those comments seem vague, it's on purpose. To say anything more would ruin the game and I'm not about to do that for anybody who hasn't played it yet. I will say the game moved me to tears, but not for the reasons you'd think.
"Gone Home" trumps all of those other games for a simple reason really. It's an experience that is universal and accessible to anybody.
"The Last of Us" tells a great story of survival set in a world ravaged by the zombie apocalypse. The main characters, Joel and Ellie, are excellent and easy to empathize with, but I wouldn't play through the game again. Not because it's a bad game, but what happens to them is so brutal that I couldn't really bear to go through all of it again. I can tolerate all the violence in the "The Last of Us" and other titles because that is what the game demands from me.
A great story is the backbone of each game and none would be be good without it, but "Gone Home" does something none of those other games do -- it tells a compelling story about real people and I can't say about many other titles.
Contact Jose San Mateo at email@example.com.
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