I'm a big fan of games that are able to be played in only an hour or two. They tend to be accessible to non-gamers, not only because of their length and price, but they tend to be much more story-driven than a typical Triple-A console title. Instead of investing hours and hours into being the top sharp-shooter in the world, players can spend just an hour or two with characters that are just as real and powerful as any hard-hitting film out there.
Gone Home is the greatest example of this kind of game that I've played so far; it has not only a compelling story about a fractured family, but an innovative way of telling that story. Within the realm of new interactive ways modes of storytelling, Gone Home sets the standard for both innovation and emotional impact.
You play as Katie, a student who has just spent a year abroad in Europe. Her family, meanwhile, has moved into a new house. When Katie arrives at her new home, her parents and sister Sam are nowhere to be found. It's your job to piece together what happened to everybody by looking through old letters, reading journal entries, and listening to voicemails.
I say "job" as if Gone Home is an average video game. In most games, it's your "job" to do the things that the game tells you to do. You win if you collect all of the objects or visit every world or defeat the final boss. Gone Home does not assign you a "job" to do, nor does the game confine you to one specific path. There's no guide that forces you down a certain hallway or into a specific room. There's certainly an intended path, but you're not held to it. The first time I played, I visited a certain wing of the house before I should have, but still ended the game having had the same experience that the developers intended.
The house itself is beautiful. When a game is this short, it's possible to spend a lot of extra time on tiny details that larger projects would need to overlook. The Fullbright Company made sure that every single element of the game, from moody shadows to dressers full of clothing, is believable and real. In a story that focuses on teenagers, who are typically so bent on things that are genuine and real, this is absoulutely crucial.
Gone Home is a coming of age story. As such, it's all about discovering who you are and the obstacles in the way. The design of the game harbors that kind of discovery for the player. When you come across a new wing of the house, as dark and unnerving as it might be, you're still motivated to explore. You're excited to read the back of a magazine that you find on a kitchen table. You're right with Sam as she navigates her way around high school. Everything about Gone Home is incredibly inviting, yet creepy. Again, there's no real "job." Playing the game is its own reward.
You can find Gone Home on Steam here.