For this critical play, I tried out Gone Home, a walking simulator mystery developed by the Fullbright Company. I played the game on iOS, which I think had a particularly strong effect on the gameplay for this game.
To me, the central piece of this game is the sense of immersion. It is clear that the developers prioritized this above all else in the creation of the game — the game stresses (in its App Store description) that the game does not rely on puzzles or on interaction with the world, but rather drops you into a house where you are free to explore and advance the plot at your own pace. In Gone Home, they facilitate this sense of immersion in two main ways: artistic design choices, and story. For me the former aspect of the game made it creepy, exciting, and generally fun to play, while the latter I personally felt fell short of expectations.
Gone Home places you in an empty house with a very deserted feeling to it. The colors of the house, the decoration style, and the lighting all facilitate the game’s eerie feeling, and the bits of audio really hammer this feeling home (I had to turn off the volume on my phone at some points because I spook so easily). The game’s 3D graphics on iOS don’t detract too much from the visual design. While it is clear that the graphics are not ideal, they aren’t diminished to the point of making the game feel like a joke, and the art style still generally looks very appealing. One particular design aspect that I appreciated was the way light plays a role in the environment. The character is able to turn lights on and off, which really helps with the immersive feel, as you control the environment and even get to feel the rush of anticipation as you wander into a dark room and then quickly turn on the light.
All of the wonderful/creepy design aspects aside, I didn’t have fun at all with the game’s actual story. I didn’t feel invested in the notes and things scattered about, and without the creepiness of the atmosphere I feel like I would have simply been bored. I didn’t complete the game, but I never got to a piece of the story that felt captivating in any way. I even googled the rest of the game’s plot to see if the story picked up later in the game, but I still never saw any information that was captivating to me. It would have been more interesting if there were an immediate threat that became apparent by reading the mysterious notes, instead of the Sam narrative that seemed largely unrelated to our character. I feel like the story doesn’t live up to the rest of the game’s creepiness.