Wednesday, 4 September 2013

Independence - Yes or No

Living in Scotland, the Independence debate is raging on at the moment. With a referendum due next September, people are starting to pick their sides and everyone is being asked their opinion.

Fuck that, this is a games blog.

I've been playing a few indie games recently. More so than usual anyway. The first one came out last month and was a title I'd waited for since I first read about it last year.

Gone Home, as I'm sure many of you know (If indeed there are any of you. I'm still sure I'm the only one who reads this stuff), is a game about nosing around a house, rifling through drawers and cupboards, reading other peoples mail and generally throwing the notion of other peoples "privacy" into the bin. And by God is it good. The only real problem with it is how to talk about it without spoiling the experience. You see Gone Home is a game about discovery, and not just in the "Ah-ha! I found the key!" sense. To talk about the game is to take away some of that discovery. Some of that mystery. So in the broadest possible terms here is what Gone Home is about.

You return from a year-long trip abroad to find your family home empty. No parents, no little sister. The aim of the game is to find out what has happened while you were away and where your family has gone. That's it.

You find yourself walking from room to room, looking for those hints which all add up to create a better picture of what's been happening. But it's the subtlety of those hints which impresses. At no-point is anything spelt out for you as you wander the corridors and rooms. There are occasional voice-overs from your Sister, who is at the center of the "main" story, but excluding the very end of the game you are left to piece it all together in your head. So as I said before, you find yourself reading letters and diary entries, opening cupboards and looking under the bed.

The atmosphere in the game is just incredible too. You're new to this house so everything is unfamiliar to you. There's a storm raging outside. The house is old and prone to creaking and thumping. Your own mind begins to convince you that at some point the game is going to abandon its realistic tone and suddenly you'll be confronted by something. The game itself even panders to that fear, so much so that right up until the end I wasn't sure if it would. It manages to create an unease in you, which only disappeared for me at the end, but I wouldn't have had it any other way.

Setting the game in the mid-nineties also allows a certain level of nostalgia to creep in for players of my age. For example there are numerous cassettes dotted around that can all be played, which feature bands from the 90s. Someone in the house is an avid fan of the X-Files it seems, from the number of VHS tapes found in the living room.

It's the smaller details that help create that bigger, more vibrant story in your mind. There are rooms associated with one character in particular, which all seem to have at least one almost empty bottle of Whiskey somewhere, none of which are highlighted or have your attention drawn to them any more than anything else. You could very easily play the whole game and never even notice them, but those who take their time to explore and take it all in will be very well rewarded.

But it astounded me just how much I felt I knew these characters through nothing more than what I found in the course of the game. It's through this fantastic writing and slow exposure to who and what they are that made them more realistic people. These aren't video game characters at all. They're just a family, with the same problems, quirks and nuances as any other in the world. Each of them has a story for you to discover and each of them has an ending.

This is not a long game at all. I finished my playthrough in about three to four hours, but I was taking my time with it. I dare say if you were to rush through it you could perhaps do it in an hour or less, but you would be robbing yourself of a truly fantastic experience. Take your time and absorb it all.

This is now my go to game for people who've never played a game. It's intelligent, thought provoking and genuinely mature. I would encourage my mother to play this game. Hell I'd encourage my grandmother to play this game.

It's the kind of game that re-affirms my love of gaming. That not everything has to be a huge budget console title with a cinematic score, shouty Space-Marines and 1080p 60FPS at a price of £50.

Try Gone Home. It's available from the games website and is well worth the $19 you'll pay for it.

So yes I am very pro-indie at the moment. If it means more innovative, truly interesting titles like Gone Home are out there alongside the big budget titles then it can only be a good thing. Imagine a world where there were no indie films like Reservoir Dogs, only Michael Bay films............ Oh god.

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