More Shorts: Marie’s Room and Gone Home

Winter break for me this year is really a game heavy time, including playing through some more fairly short titles from Steam.  Hilariously, rather than playing through the backlog, at this point I’m adding new one’s that are getting played quickly…does that level it out?  Let’s say it does 😉

Anyway, first up today is Marie’s Room.  I stumbled on this free to play short exploration game the other night while looking through the Steam sale and my queue.  Apparently the recent spat I’ve played, including this one, are also called walking simulators, though I’m really not sure why. Yes, you walk around and explore, but still pretty much every game has you walking around so yeah, weird term for me.

Kelsey has come back to a room packed up in boxes. She has one goal – get Marie’s journal. When she picks it up, the memories come back. Because twenty years ago Kelsey and Marie shared this room. They spent days in it working on projects, nights talking about boys, pizza and sparkly shoes. Dreaming about the future, planning their life. Until that ghastly night. When it was all shattered to pieces.

What happened to Marie and Kelsey twenty years ago?

Search Marie’s room and join Kelsey in her trip down memory lane. Open drawers, pick up objects. Learn what Kelsey remembers, read what Marie thought about it. As you puzzle the pieces together, you uncover the secrets of their friendship.

The game is pretty much as it is described.  You start in the house and can walk around a little, but mostly your goal is to enter the room which starts the trip down memory lane.  As you walk around the room and explore various items within it, you start to get pieces of the girls’ shared past and hints as to the hinted at life shattering event.  It culminates in you reading Marie’s journal, which fills in some of the hints and gaps and gives you the clue to unlock the final piece of the story.

Considering the length, Marie’s Room still managed to build to nuanced characters, both of whom were neither wholly good or wholly bad, just flawed humans who made mistakes.  Even the villain has some nuances to them, though overall they are presented as being much less morally ambiguous than the girls.

It’s hard to say much more about the story without spoiling it, so moving on the graphics are beautifully done.  The room really looks like something you’d expect two older teen girls would have shared twenty years ago and is richly detailed.  You can’t explore every single item, but even the ones you can only look at are lovingly crafted.  The soundtrack also fits the story well and was unobtrusive.

So all in all, this is another great freebie that I’d recommend giving a whirl if you don’t mind a thought-provoking story that has a hopeful, if mildly ambiguous, ending.  You really have little to lose other than an hour of your time (probably less if you aren’t as slow as I was on getting the answer for the second of two puzzles in the game).

Second up is Gone Home.

You arrive home after a year abroad. You expect your family to greet you, but the house is empty. Something’s not right. Where is everyone? And what’s happened here? Unravel the mystery for yourself in Gone Home, a story exploration game from The Fullbright Company.

Gone Home is an interactive exploration simulator. Interrogate every detail of a seemingly normal house to discover the story of the people who live there. Open any drawer and door. Pick up objects and examine them to discover clues. Uncover the events of one family’s lives by investigating what they’ve left behind.

Broadly similar in concept, you play as Katie, who returns home in 1995 from a trip abroad to an empty house.  Through exploring the house you learn more about what’s been happening in the family while Katie was away, with the bulk of the events dealing with her sister Sam and the family’s move to the house.  While it’s Katie doing the exploring and learning, the story is really Sam’s, and told primarily through journal entries unlocked as you find various notes and items that trigger them.

it took me approximately two hours to complete this one, in large part because the house is huge and there are a LOT of items you can pick up and examine that have no meaning or value in the game at all.  Soda cans, pizza boxes, tissue boxes, etc.  It was mildly annoying since it seemed like those items were made examinable just to do it versus there being some purpose in it all.  I think there were just two, maybe three, that you picked up and found something underneath that was interesting.

Graphically, the game is very lovely with the house well detailed and looking very much like that of a family that was still in the process of moving in.  It fit the 1995 setting well with vinyls and VHS tapes scattered around, and the mansion sized house had a library any book lover would envy.  Story wise, it was good overall.  I enjoyed Sam’s story immensely and it kept me playing.  There are a lot of loose threads though that have no resolution and don’t seem to do much to enhance the story at all.  For example, the hints of possible paranormal activity and the introduction of other characters that possibly have impact on the characters lives but it’s never resolved.

The game also starts out with a classic horror setup only to be anything but.  The false narrative and the tension it builds along with the creepily empty house did make the game a bit disappointing, despite my enjoying the actual story.  I just wish it had been better marketed to its real genre (pretty much a romance with mild drama) versus the fake out of being a thriller.  Game playwise, it’s all pretty much walk, examine, listen to journal entries, and there are three combinations to find (only two are needed to finish the game though).

There are glitches in this one, particularly with trying to examine items.  Frequently they would disappear off-screen and couldn’t actually be looked at, or would only rotate a bit and then flip around a bit.  Also there is one bit, looking at a travel itinerary, that causes the game to almost freeze up (the first time I thought it had and restarted).  The walking movement is pretty slow, which can be a bit frustrating, and doors would sometimes say they opened when they didn’t because you were blocking it, so you’d have to close and then reopen it again.

I purchased Gone Home on sale for $2.99, versus its usual $14.99 price tag.  For the sale price, it was worth the read/play despite its misleading genre.  Had I paid $15 for it, I’d be seriously annoyed and probably want a refund.  There are no alternate endings, no choices, so pretty much one play through is all you need unless you just want to go achievement hunting.  So if you can snag it on sale, just go into it realizing it is NOT a horror or thriller game at all, but a romance.  I wouldn’t recommend it at full price though.