Why I love being a horrible goose: the joys of Untitled Goose Game
A reader takes a gander at Untitled Goose Game and enjoys a relaxing time being as unpleasant as possible in an idyllic English village.
I’ve never played Everyone’s Gone To The Rapture or the latest Forza Horizon and I have a specific regret about that. The thing these games have in common is that they’ve been praised for giving the player a reasonable facsimile of lazy life in the meandering river of rural Britain. It’s something that’s always appealed to me, the idea of a kind of Last of the Summer Wine lethargy in gaming form. I’ve never had the chance… until this week.
This week I’ve been flapping around rural Britain as a goose with the simple objective of ruining people’s day and it’s been a gloriously laid-back experience. Untitled Goose Game may not be the most complex or graphically impressive game but the ambiance of the setting and the simplicity of the premise gives the game a focus rarely seen in these days of bloated open worlds and everlasting live services.
The appeal lies in two main factors, the first subtle and the second more overt. I’ll start with the subtle which to me is the setting and ambiance. Untitled Goose Game takes place in a sleepy, presumably pastoral English village of well-to-do sedate residents going about their quiet, relaxing lives and its very well depicted. There’s the flat capped gardener whose biggest worry is the size of their pumpkins and rouge of their roses, pottering about level-grinding the gardening mini-game in blissful peace.
There’s the high street with a little scamp kicking a football and a brusque shopkeeper with a confusing set of wares for sale. And then there’s the country pub. The hub of the community with laughter and games and a bustling barmaid constantly scrubbing the already clean tables. Even the pause menu drips with rural Englicana in the form of the instantly familiar road sign design motifs. No opportunity is missed to swallow you whole into House House’s stylised vision of a bucolic bygone age.
The art direction is based on a very simple comic book panel aesthetic. The people you interact with have oddly blank faces but expressive bodies, able to say a thousand words with their simple pictorial speech bubbles and over-the-top body language. They are characterful and expressive, it’s a clever choice that while not cutting edge should pass the test of time well.
Thankfully it is a sunny day in the village, and everyone is enjoying the rare dose of vitamin D afforded to the denizens of this foggy isle from time to time. A tranquil and calm environment, the last place anyone would expect chaos to break out in. And that takes me onto the other main appeal of the game: its malevolent protagonist, the titular goose.
The goose is, like the Joker in Batman, an agent of chaos and you’ll find that you instantly fall into lock step with the goose’s anarchistic approach to rural suburbia and its delicious delight at the ruination of everyone’s paradise. It’s a weird game, you won’t be killed because… of course not you’re just a naughty goose and somehow this makes your low stakes ASBO behaviour more believable and the goose more of character.
The actions of the people, their ambivalence towards you and the controls all combine to put you into the mindset of a horrible goose, there’s just no other way to describe it.
Take the controls, you can only pick stuff up with your mouth and you cannot manipulate anything that would require fingers – for example, opening a gate with a set of keys. This gets you to empathise with the restrictions of your animal avatar. Taking this a step further, you can’t communicate except through the dedicated honk button and this only provokes a quizzical or frightened response, because… of course it would, no one understands a goose.
The goose can flap his wings aggressively and that’s about it for the controls. There’s Metal Gear basic stealth to getting some of your to-do items done but unlike Snake, who must remain hidden at all times, you can brazenly face down your opponents as they vainly shoo you away. I liked throwing an insolent honk right at their stupid faces as they smugly think they’ve seen the back of this white and orange terror.
These two factors have the combined effect of getting you to understand what it would be like to be an aggressive fowl in a country village. The Vikings probably left less of a mess behind on the worst days of their raiding. The goose upends, uproots, and despoils anything it touches, it’s little wonder that ‘no goose’ signs litter your destructive wake.
If I have one criticism it would be the length of the game. It’s hard to gauge how long a game should be but I was enjoying myself right up to the end, which left me wanting more. I would estimate about two to three hours of gameplay total. It’s priced at £13, which is about the right price for what it is.
I am really glad it exists and glad I got to experience it. It takes place in a place that ultimately I don’t think every truly existed, but can be so powerfully evoked that you’ll believe it did. And it’d great to be the feathery scourge of that idyll.
By reader Dieflemmy (gamertag/PSN ID/NN ID)
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