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Over the past few years, I've had some pretty outstanding video game adventures. I've suited up as Spider-Man and darted across the Manhattan skyline on silvery webs. I've explored ancient alien worlds in an effort to piece together a mystery that spanned the cosmos. I've fought Gods and Monsters, slayed Ganon for the hundredth time, gone kart racing with a couple of plumbers, and struggled to survive a zombie outbreak while being pursued by a mutant assassin.
Those were all fantastic, truly epic adventures that I will always cherish and revisit, and I'm thrilled to say that a new adventure has just joined their ranks. But instead of playing the role of a superhero, a noble warrior, or a God with a troubled past, this adventure places me squarely in the shoes (or I guess whatever you call bird feet) of a goose who lives in an English village and spends its days getting all up in shit it ought not to be all up in. Guys, I am so happy to confirm that Untitled Goose Game is finally here, and it was absolutely worth the wait.
Unless you've been living under a rock, or some particularly vindictive goose made off with your laptop, phone, and TV (it happens), there's a good chance that you're already aware of Untitled Goose Game, the imaginatively-named foul fowl sim from indie studio House House. What essentially started off as a bit of a joke project rapidly took off, much to the surprise of House House, when the first trailer dropped in 2017 and quickly went viral. The simple premise - that you're a goose that lives to run around annoying humans by stealing their junk and making them trip over while trying to chase you down - proved to be a hit with... well, pretty much everyone.
Subsequent trailers and gameplay previews only served to build the hype, and it quickly became clear that Untitled Goose Game, or UGG as no one but me is calling it, was one of the most anticipated titles of 2019 - an incredible feat in a year that has also played host to the likes of Resident Evil 2, Devil May Cry V, and Sekiro: Shadows Die Twice.
Of course, hype can be a double edged sword, especially in the world of video games. Just ask Hello Games. Fortunately, I can absolutely guarantee you that if you were excited by the idea of a game in which you run around being a douche of a goose, then UGG does exactly what it has always promised what it would do. No more, no less. So, anyone expecting some kind of AAA open world goose simulator needs to check their expectations at the door, because this ain't that. Nor did it ever pretend to be, so if you're thinking it is, maybe have a word with yourself, yeah? Yeah.
While you might be aware of the basics of UGG, you might actually be surprised to learn, as I was, that the game plays a hell of a lot like Hitman. Just as Agent 47 must keep a close eye on the routines of his victims and get to know the environment in an effort to ascertain the perfect moment to strike, so too must the goose watch, wait, and occasionally honk. The game is split into a number of smaller areas that make up the village as a whole, all connected by side routes and shortcuts between areas that you can open up as you progress. In this respect, and I hate myself for saying this, the world design is not unlike Dark Souls.
Of course, you're a goose, not a trained assassin, so instead of sneaking around bludgeoning and poisoning folk, all you have to do is find ways to annoy the residents of this gorgeously-designed minimalist English village. You can, if you want, simply run around honking and flapping your wings. There are dedicated buttons for both, after all, but if you want to actually progress through the game and reach new locations, you'll need to complete the various objectives on the goose's checklist.
Who wrote this checklist and why is unclear, but the goose - and by extension you - are happy to carry out the commands etched onto it. You're given absolutely no direction when it comes to carrying out your goals, and will instead have to pay attention to your surroundings, nearby items, and the routines of your victims. Some objectives are fairly obvious, where others require a little more planning.
Chasing a small boy into a phone booth just involves running after him while madly honking, for example, whereas getting that same boy to buy back his toy plane from the shop involves stealthily nabbing the plane when he's not looking, sneaking over to the shop, placing it down next to the rest of the toys, and waiting until the kid goes looking for it and is forced to buy it back from the grumpy shop owner. You can also untie that same kid's shoelaces and chase him until he trips up in a puddle, where you can then steal his glasses and leave him to scramble around in the dirt for eternity. It's brilliant.
UGG is packed with genuinely hilarious moments like this that really are best discovered for yourself, not least because working out the correct chain of events or items needed to break a woman's prize vase or get yourself dressed up in a ribbon are so much funnier, and far more satisfying, when you've joined the dots without any help. There's also a welcome lack of urgency, meaning you're free to take your time, experiment, and mess up. While humans can shoo you away and take their stolen items back, there are no game over screens and you simply waddle straight back over and try a new approach whenever you want. I wasn't expecting a game about a goose to be one of the best sandbox puzzle games I've played in years, but here we are.
I suspect much of the comedy would have fallen apart if the goose itself wasn't so spectacularly animated, but every single movement, from the way it rears its head to sneak around to the way it innocently waddles behind unsuspecting victims, is pure perfection. The simple piano soundtrack is also a fine addition to the game that subtly enhances every waddle, flap, and honk.
My only real complaint, the only blemish on an otherwise spotless goose, is that the whole thing is over far, far too quickly. You can get through the entire town and see everything the game has to offer within around two hours, max. Once you've finished the main objectives, you do get the chance to play through some bonus objectives that force you to consider the map as a whole instead of simply a series of self-contained levels, but while those will keep you busy for another hour or so, it didn't do much to lessen the immense disappointment I felt when the credits first rolled, even if the last moment of the game tells an absolutely perfect, wordless visual gag.
Given the range of truly brilliant ideas on display in UGG, I don't think for a second that House House ran out of steam. Rather, I suspect the studio reasoned that making the game any longer than a handful of hours would kill the joke. I respectfully disagree however, and truly believe that some more areas to explore and NPCs to terrorise would have catapulted this into Game of the Year territory. The content that's in there is so well designed, so damn-near perfect, that UGG's length really is the only thing stopping me from slapping a 10/10 score on it and recommending it to everyone I know.
Hopefully House House works on some DLC in the future, because I personally would love to see a Christmas update in which the goose destroys a Christmas market or something. Until such time, I can confidently say that if you're the kind of person that enjoyed the trailers for UGG, then you will have an incredible time with it - just as long as you're aware that it's really not that long of a game.
Still, even a relatively short length can't put too much of a dampener on what is otherwise a perfectly paced, gorgeously designed, and deceptively deep sandbox stealth puzzler with some of the funniest and most satisfying moments you'll experience in a game this year. Untitled Goose Game is guaranteed to keep you laughing - and honking - throughout.
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