Dial H For HONK
A review of Untitled Goose Game
So, I got myself Untitled Goose Game for the Switch on Sunday as a little treat after the successful bookstore launch. I've been looking forward to it since its teaser trailer made the rounds a year ago. It took me two not terribly long play sessions over the course of two days to complete the main quest of the game, at which point a number of optional side objectives are unlocked.
Even with some 100% completion challenges, it's not a long game nor a very large environment. It's definitely a snack as far as games go, but freeform and fun enough that it's possible to savor it nonetheless.
Despite the simplicity of its premise, and its refusal to explain anything beyond "you are a goose" notwithstanding, this game has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and there is a logic that governs your rampage: in each of four areas, your goal is to annoy the inhabitants so much that in a fit of pique they put up a "no gooses allowed" sign, an act which in some way serves to open up a path that was barred to you. This gets you one step closer to your ultimate goal.
From the way paths are closed off to you initially and a few other visual cues, we can infer that none of this is actually arbitrary - everything in this picturesque village has been arranged specifically to keep you out. There's a whole implied arms race between the villagers and the goose that has brought things to this point, whereby in trying to curtail the goose's reign of terror, the village has only provoked its greatest spree yet.
In a sense, it's a story like Moby Dick or Frankenstein, a tale about the hubris of man thinking nature can ever be fought on his terms, can ever be controlled or contained.
This game isn't particularly retro but it definitely evoked some of the nostalgia for me of a game like King's Quest, A Boy and his Blob, or Maniac Mansion, where the challenge is to look at the disparate elements in a scene and figure out how they can be used to circumvent an obstacle or achieve a goal. With puzzle pieces that rely on physics objects and AI behaviors, though, it's more flexible and dynamic, though, and it's far more forgiving - here, there is no character death, no lose condition, and while your path forward is constrained by design, the solution to obstacles is very much a matter of sandbox play. You don't have to hit on the right solution, just figure out an arrangement of the available elements that lets you get where your'e going or claim your prize.
I enjoyed the game and will definitely play it (and play around with it) more, but I find myself hoping that its designers will follow up with something larger and more freeform, something like the Grand Theft Auto of being a horrible goose. Or maybe like the Goat Simulator of it.
It's satisfying to realize that the whole time, the goose has a cunning plan... that the to-do list isn't just an arbitrary meta thing but the steps that take the goose from the garden to its goal... but it left me wanting to explore this world more, to really spread my wings and... waddle quickly at an ornithophobic child whose shoelaces I have previously untied.
Do I recommend this game? I give it the same recommendation I give every game: you might like it, if it's the sort of game you like. I do think that developer House House has hit on a magic formula, though. One note I've seen cropping up in people's tweets is that many who have tried and failed to do "evil playthroughs" as a human character on RPGs have gone absolutely feral hog at the chance to play as a horrible goose, perhaps because the goose is not human and the aggressive jerkiness of large waterfowl is something of an internet meme.
A game that allows you to play as a bloodthirsty predator turned loose against hapless villagers would have the same moral alibi of "you're not playing as a human," but wouldn't necessarily quiet the conscience in the same way. The goose is just a jerk, though. The villagers are inconvenienced, humiliated, and terrified, and there is some significant property damage, but it's largely a case of no harm, no fowl... er, you know what I mean.
On the note of terror, I should point out that all the different characters you encounter have differing personalities, which includes differing levels of tolerance for and fear of the goose. Most of them will at least confront you if you invade their bubble, causing you to drop whatever you're holding. Some will chase you at least a short distance, and are assertive enough to push you out of places you're not supposed to be.
One character in particular, though, is genuinely terrified of the goose, and your progress forward depends on taking advantage of this in ways that seem cruel even by standards of being a horrible goose. To put it delicately, this game expects you as a goose to be willing to traumatize a child. I didn't have a problem with it in the context of the game, but I think it's worth noting here.
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