It was always going to be hard for a game to live up to the hype Untitled Goose Game had.
Untitled Goose Game, the second game from Australian developers House House, has one of the best premises of any video game. Most humans have had a miserable experience with geese, and most people who enjoy video games enjoy wrecking other people’s shit. Ergo, the combination of the two should make for an excellent game.
That’s the theory, anyway.
Untitled Goose Game takes place in a quiet village where you, the titular goose, arise from a bush. After a short tutorial where you get accustomed to the basic controls — running, crouching, honking, flapping your wings and grabbing things high and low — it’s onto a small garden to terrorise the locals.
The game loads the entire village in a single level, but your progress is gated (literally) until you’ve caused enough mayhem to proceed. In the first little area, the same as what was shown Goose Game‘s original trailer, you’re asked to hold a picnic. But there’s more than that: it’s also your job to steal the gardener’s hat, his keys, drag the rake into the lake, along with some secret objectives that don’t become clear until you complete them.
There’s about five main levels per se: the initial garden, the street with a little boy and a lady who runs a market stall, two houses connected by neighbours that occasionally peek into each other’s yard, a local pub and a smaller level that runs through the rest of the town. Each level is effectively a ground for a series of stealth mini-puzzles that ask you to ruin the villagers’ lives in increasingly creative ways.
The whole game is fairly short — most people should have no trouble working their way through the village in about two hours, three tops if you run into any problems with the puzzles. It’s about the right length, because all of Goose Game‘s best moments are coupled with the frustration of having to smash objects together until you find what you need to trigger the correct sequence of events.
Goose Game, then, is more Metal Gear Solid with carrots, toy boats and unsuspecting civilians. All of the levels are laid out with enough dummy objects that will trigger someone’s attention when gone, so a lot of your time will be spent nicking random objects as distractions.
Most of the frustration will come from the controls. Running turns the goose into something of a tank — think the limited range of movement you have when running in Gears of War — and you have to manually crouch or stand to grab objects at different heights. For the most part it’s manageable, but there’s a few instances, particularly when you have to nick a slipper, keys or something else close range, where the controls get in the way.
But most of the puzzles you can brute force if you get stuck. It shouldn’t be necessary, but few of the puzzles are tied into each other, and on the rare occasions where you get stuck or you lock yourself out of completing a level the autosave system is pretty generous.
Goose Game has lots of great individual moments: performing tricks for a couple having a picnic, locking a kid in a phone booth and getting on TV, watching an entire pub run rampant as you taunt them with a two-way radio, and slowly driving the village mad as only an arsehole goose could.
But there’s a lot of downtime engineering all of this. And that’s where Goose Game falls over a bit. The gags themselves are fun, but the process of setting them up: not so much. That much became clear at the very end, where your to-do list resets with all the extra objectives you can complete after you’ve finished the game.
“No thanks,” I said to myself, looking at the pages of extra objectives to do. I’d waited all this time for Goose Game, and by the end of it all, I was happy to see the back of the honking critter. It’s still an enjoyable few hours, but as it turns out, geese still grate on even the biggest of bird lovers.