Untitled Goose Game Review — A Comedy of Errors
House House's Untitled Goose Game is undoubtedly a hilarious experience, but it lacks a varied toolset to maximize said hilarity.
Out of all of the visual mediums, video games seem to be the medium that eludes humor the most. Sure, writers can put out a funny script and animators can make their characters do silly things, but the interactivity of gaming cries for the act of play to create comedy for the player. This Untitled Goose Game from House House could very well serve as an antidote for the lack of comedy in play experiences, even if it doesn’t reach its full potential.
It’s a game that has a list of objectives and a sandbox with tools for the player to mess about with. What results is a game less like Goat Simulator and more like the recent Hitman titles. It invites players to have fun with a degree of freedom, but in the end, it’s a video game where you go from point A to point B. It’s open enough to create silly situations at your own pace but rigid enough in that the hilarity has its limitations.
Even so, there is indeed a “honk” button, and yes, it’s super fun to abuse.
The premise here is that you play as an asshole goose. And not just any asshole goose, but an asshole goose with an agenda. This is represented by a literal “to-do list,” handwritten in cursive. Who actually wrote this list is unknown and makes the framing a bit confusing, but the contrast between the neatness of the list and the bonkers nature of the actual gameplay is quite entertaining in itself. For the most part, these list items involve the player goose causing mischief amongst the inhabitants of a small town.
There are four main areas in the game, each with their own to-do list. Many of these tasks will have the player create a number of inconveniences for some human NPCs; for example, the opening garden level may task you with getting the groundskeeper wet, and the player will have to conjure up a way to lure him to a sprinkler and activate it at just the right time. To cap every level is a laundry list of items to steal and gather; completing that big task will unlock a final list item that will take you to the next level. Hidden to-do items are revealed after completing the game, so one could say that there is a post-game in case you missed the lot of these before finishing.
Besides the aforementioned honk button, the controls for this game include running, grabbing, lowering your neck, and raising your wings up. Objects you can interact with and pick will have a small white indicator when near, and the game is quite helpful in telling players what NPCs are focused on; if you steal an apple, for example, an apple will appear as a thought bubble above the person looking for it. Some objects like a two-way walkie talkie and a radio also make for useful and creative distractions, as you attempt to navigate the scenarios presented for you.
These to-do items don’t come with specific instructions, so figuring out how to achieve them is a puzzle onto itself. It all becomes trial-and-error, sifting through all of the tools and options around the level to find the solution that the game wants to lead you too. And frustration slowly began to simmer once I realized how stifling the game could be with its puzzle logic at times. I’m going to spoil one of the puzzles of the third level, which involves two backyards separated by a fence, but it’s one that I couldn’t stop thinking about when reflecting on the game’s nature.
One of the tasks at hand involved a “fancy vase,” which one of the two neighbors was painting a picture of. The list stated that I had to get “someone” to break the vase, implying that it could be either human to shatter it. I noticed that the painter had a model goose against the fence, and there’s a funny little bit you can pull off with it. I hid on the other side of the fence and honked to gain the painter’s attention. The painter approached the model curiously, and another honk from me startled her and caused her to fall back. I tried to position the vase in a way that would get her to fall back on it, but the collision simply didn’t register.
Instead, I had to observe another behavior from the other neighbor to figure out the game’s single solution for this task. When the lazy tea-drinking, newspaper-reading neighbor notices anything from the painter’s yard on his, he’ll carelessly toss it back to his neighbor’s yard. It’s all well and good when it’s a piece of clothing or something else soft, but trouble ensues once he treats the vase the same way. A hilarious moment for sure, but I kept thinking: what if my first solution worked anyway?
There’s a lack of versatility from the gameplay that I wasn’t expecting; while House House wasn’t setting themselves up to make a AAA stealth game like Hitman, a game where there are numerous options and angles with the various tools to take care of your targets, but I desired the room to try out different things. Nothing wrong for a puzzle game, but one shouldn’t expect that open of a sandbox experience.
Where the game undoubtedly succeeds is in its presentation. It’s minimalist from a macro standpoint, with a pretty unified color palette, simple textures, and a lack of spoken dialogue; none are problems at all, with the game conveying everything it needs to effectively. On a micro level, environments have a number of props and elements that make these small areas feel alive and lived in. Simple effects like lines enhance some of the sensory hilarity humans getting startled and surprised, or a goose honking at a poor child to the point where he hides in a phone booth.
The musical score is entirely piano-based if I’m not mistaken, and is one of my favorite recent examples of adaptive music. The whimsical piano tunes match the waddling of the goose and the franticness of being chased by a subject of your annoyance, and different areas are characterized by different melodies, with the score seamlessly transitioning as you make your way from one area to the next. The game finds other ways to have fun with sound, one of my favorite examples being a glass bottle with no other function than to put on the goose’s bill and muffle its honk.
There are a number of hilarious situations that have been curated for the game; you can sneak into an A/V store and find yourself in front of a live camera to be broadcasted in screens everywhere; you can pull an old man’s stool away right before he’s about to sit on it; you can tie a boy’s shoelaces to make him fall down and drop his glasses, and then replace his glasses with the wrong pair. It works because you, the player, are the one creating these moments of havoc rather than experiencing them through cutscenes; it’s rewarding to figure out how NPC routines align with the game’s objectives. At the same time, I really wish that I were able to craft my own comedic scenes.
Unfortunately, there were funny moments that weren’t really intended to be funny due to the fidelity of the controls and interface. Having at least two objects next to each other causes some predictable problems, but things go awry once you’re trying to nab something specific on an NPC’s person, especially if they’re carrying more than one objects. See, they don’t like it when you steal their stuff, so naturally, they’ll go on a merry chase for you; usually, these humans can outrun your goose, and when they’re close enough to you, you’ll drop whatever you’re holding and they’ll take it back. You’ll probably be mashing the grab button and brute-forcing your way to retrieve these objects, which made me feel like I was “cheesing it” at some points.
At some times, I’ll grab something back from a human, and despite their earlier fervor, the AI will simply forget about that object and go about their routine. Something I found that I broke the game’s logic during a chase by taking an item into a previous area in the game, which the NPCs of the current area aren’t allowed to traverse in. It was not the most ideal solution, and I felt as though I were cheating a bit. That’s all to say that direct interactions with human NPCs are clunky at their worst.
I’m somewhat reluctant to stick by all of my larger criticisms because perhaps the game that I was expecting and wanting simply wasn’t the same game that House House was aiming to make. But after being presented with all of these tools in a fun world, I just kept imagining how much farther and funnier this concept could have gone. I’m always thankful for relatively shorter game experiences, but I’d love to see more goose hijinx from these developers in the future. Take the openness of Goat Simulator but remove the memes, take the versatility of Hitman but remove the murder, and absolutely keep the fun aesthetic and sounds of Untitled Goose Game that made it unique.
And it goes without saying, but keep the honk button.