3 – Gone Home
So much digital ink has been spilled over the greatness of Gone Home, the first game from The Fullbright Company, so I’ll keep this relatively brief. Gone Home is an atmospheric masterpiece. Taking the role of Katie, you return home (get it?) to your parents’ place in the Pacific Northwest on a dark and stormy night. They should have known you were coming, but you arrive to find the house empty. What follows is a game of exploration in which you work to unravel the mystery of where your family has gone. Through audio clips and letters and newspaper clippings, you discover a deep well of information about the Greenbriar family: their hopes, desires, secrets.
The setting — an empty house on a stormy night — would seem to suggest this is a horror game. If you’re horror-averse, don’t worry: it’s not. The tension you feel is natural, however. It’s easy to imagine wandering a house like this alone, at night, in real life. It’s a testament to Fullbright’s work that the game achieves this level of realism. If you’re new to walking simulators, Gone Home is a great place to start.
2 – Firewatch
Few games in recent memory have developed a fictional relationship so thoroughly as Firewatch. Ostensibly the story of Henry, a seasonal fire lookout at the Shoshone National Forest in 1989, Firewatch is really a story about what happens when we run away from our problems. Henry, whose wife is suffering from early-onset dementia, can’t bear the burden of his life any longer, and so he runs away from his responsibilities. His supervisor Delilah, who we don’t meet in person, communicates with him over the radio, and we learn a lot about her and her struggles, as well.
The game seems to suggest a few times that there’s something strange and mysterious going on in the forest — and there is something more going on, but it’s probably not what you think. If anything, it’s a sort of bait and switch. It’s better to go in knowing that the real story here is the developing relationship between Henry and Delilah. Sure, you’ll get to yell at teenagers skinny-dipping in the lake, investigate an abandoned government research station, and jump at every sound when you realize you might not be alone in the woods. All that action is great, but the easy, natural dialogue will keep you captivated from beginning to end.
1 – What Remains of Edith Finch
The second game from Giant Sparrow, creators of The Unfinished Swan, What Remains of Edith Finch deserves its spot at the top of this list. Edith Finch is the last surviving member of the Finch family, a group of the unluckiest people on earth. As she explores her old house, finding her way into its many sealed rooms, she learns of the fates of all her family members. Each room contains its own, unique segment, and each segment plays in a different, often brilliant way. One moment, you’ll be controlling a bird, soaring through the sky; the next, you’ll be a small boy trying his best to swing all the way around the swingset bar; the next, you’ll take control of a comic book, moving panel by panel through a stylish horror story.
Edith’s narration appears on screen, not in simple subtitles, but as part of the world itself. It really helps propel the story forward and gives the game a whimsical feel that is uniquely its own. The sheer variety of gameplay and the cool, short-story-collection feel, make this a game definitely worth owning. You’ll probably finish it in one sitting, but don’t let that deter you. The experience is well worth the money you’ll spend.