For Whom the Goose Honks

Untitled Goose Game is a release on PC and Switch (the Nintendo Switch version is the one reviewed here) which generated a ton of buzz from early trailer footage, which combined an endearing animation style with a delightfully simple premise: “It’s a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose.”

As a goose your activities are limited to waddling about at various levels of speed and sneakiness, gracefully swimming on water, waving your wings about and going “honk”. With these limited capabilities, you are set loose in a charming English village divided into a number of zones – the allotments where a gardener toils away growing vegetables, the village market square, a pair of neighbouring back gardens, the local pub and the skillfully-executed model village – each of which has an associated task list. Complete more tasks, access more of the map, make more mischief; it’s that simple.

 

What this ultimately boils down to is a stealth game like Hitman with remarkably lower stakes. After all, you aren’t some sort of murder-happy Goose 47 out to garotte people, you’re just an ordinary goose who at worst will inadvertently contribute to a villager’s early death from high blood pressure with your infuriating pranks. Likewise, the villagers aren’t steely-eyed bodyguards with shoot-on-sight orders – they’re just ordinary people who’ll shoo you away if they spot you going somewhere they don’t want you but will otherwise leave you alone. This effectively means that the game has no “game over” state, leaving you free to experiment as you wish.

The game is reasonably short – developers House House perhaps realising that there’s only so many iterations on the same ideas for tasks they can roll out, and it might be better in that case to concentrate on enriching a small number of existing areas rather than adding new levels ad nauseum. Their main job here is to give you opportunities to be horrid and make the environment interesting for you.

Some of the laughs to be had in the game are scripted, of course. The route from the two neighbouring back gardens to the pub takes you in through the back door of someone’s house and out through the front; when you go through there you’re obscured from sight by the house’s outer walls, but there’s a delightful series of crashes and bangs on the sound effects as you go through there, leaving you free to imagine what chaos is being wrought. (In an especially nice touch, any item you were carrying or dragging into the house gets tossed out the front door after you.) The biggest laugh the game got out of me came at the end of the big heist you pull off on the model village level, where it becomes apparent just how long your reign of terror over the village has lasted.

However, much of the fun to be had arises from the emergent interactions you have with the world, both wholly organic and semi-scripted. A lot of this comes from the distinctive behaviour each of the NPCs is invested with. Perhaps the best level for this are the two neighbouring gardens, mostly because if you play your cards right you can get the two neighbours properly furious at each other.

My favourite NPC, however, is the rather wimpy child who loiters about in the village square. The lad seems rather listless and bored, in need of some goose-shaped excitement to shake up his day, and unlike all the other NPCs he’s no good at shooing you away. In fact, it soon becomes apparent that he’s scared of you – and once you work that out, the scope for tormenting the poor chap is near-limitless. Cruel? Yes, but it’s as quintessentially goose-like as the goose’s well-observed waddle.

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