What’s the deal with geese? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for the better part of a decade. Admittedly, it’s a rather odd question to have been mulling over for so many years, but for my whole time at university I lived in extreme proximity to them, and it had an impact. My campus was stuffed with the things. As I’d fall asleep at night I’d hear them honking away outside, having a right old laugh with the resident ducks and swans. Those cackling honks would also be the first sounds I’d hear waking up in the morning, too, the conversation no doubt still flowing about their daring escapades playing chicken against cyclists, or snapping at drunks in the night.
They were, and are, obnoxious, belligerent birds (except barnacle geese, beautiful creatures about which I will not have a bad word said), and even now I still feel a small shudder in my soul whenever I catch sight of one. But those ungainly birds of years gone by have nothing on the goose from Untitled Goose Game. That hulking white menace is evil incarnate. And I absolutely love it.
It’s a wonder the residents of Untitled Goose Game’s quaint little village ever manage to get anything done when their shops, gardens and pubs are being repeatedly invaded by this terrible goose hell-bent on sneaking into their homes and businesses for the sole purpose of ruining their day. As a student, I learned early on never to come between a goose and their chicks (one nearly murdered my foot when I cycled a bit too close to them one spring), but for these poor souls, nowhere is safe. They must worry about everything.
Shoes, glasses, carrots, hats, tea cups, walkie-talkies, cricket bats – even the knives and forks from their dinner tables aren’t safe from this honking kleptomaniac. Or at least they aren’t if you’re playing with a controller. I tried taking a mouse and keyboard approach when I first started playing, but quickly found them to be ungainly tools, ill-suited to the task at hand. I was never going to successfully complete my ever-expanding to-do list of naughty deeds if I couldn’t quickly duck, honk or even run in the correct direction at a moment’s notice. You can rebind them all, of course, but to be a true honk master, I was going to need to play with a controller.
I don’t want to spoil the exact contents of said to-do list. That would rob you of the joy of discovering it all for yourself. But I will say this. While you can pick up, steal and whisk away almost every single object you come across in this game, their exasperated human caretakers aren’t going to let you get away without a fight. They will chase you down and haul back your prize with surprising force if you get caught, and when they continue to push you away you know it’s time to accept defeat. It’s a bit like when Agent 47 gets his cover blown in Hitman, except instead of getting shot to pieces within moments, you’re simply shown the rough end of a broom and told to bog off for a bit.
The Hitman connection doesn’t end there, either. There may not be any dressing up involved in Untitled Goose Game (for the most part, anyway), but a lot of the objectives on your list can only be achieved by learning and disrupting the routines of the humans standing in your way. Sometimes it comes down to waiting until their backs are turned before making off with your treasure, but other cases require more elaborate distraction techniques that either lure humans away from their tightly-guarded possessions completely, or make them drop their guard.
The best moments are those in which you’re really engaging with the items and obstacles in front of you. A great example is the posh pair of gardens you encounter around the game’s halfway mark. Here, you’re manoeuvring items into place and running rings round the resident loungers with almost Solid Snake-like precision, creating brilliantly comedic set pieces that had me doing a few honking laughs of my own by the time I’d finished.
I also love it when you’re able to turn the humans’ diligent reset-the-scene routines to your own advantage. Again, I don’t want to spoil the specifics, but there’s nothing more glorious than watching the village’s hapless citizens traipsing round after you like tired, beleaguered parents cleaning up all the toys you’ve thrown out of your goosey pram, only to have it all chucked back in their faces again.
Sometimes, though, all that’s needed to distract your prey is a simple honk, which is decidedly less satisfying. Don’t get me wrong. Blasting goosenoise in people’s faces and doing so repeatedly as you make your getaway never gets old. It also takes on an especially playful quality when the equally chaotic and mischievous piano tinkling of Debussy’s Preludes kick in to serve as the game’s score, as well.
But bar a few stand-out comedy moments (special apologies go to the gardener at the start), pressing a single button just doesn’t have quite the same thrill as watching a carefully stacked set of dominoes fall expertly into place from the shadows. Unless, of course, you’ve also got your beak stuck in a bottle or you pick up a bin lid that makes your honk go all small and echoey. That, dear readers, is truly chefkiss.gif.
Ultimately, my only real complaint about Untitled Goose Game is that I want more of it. It probably only took me a couple of hours to rampage my way through the five self-contained puzzle areas of the village, and maybe another couple to plough through all the extra objectives that became available once you’ve seen the killer punchline of an ending.
These extra objectives do throw a few more spanners in the works, often requiring you to combine or transport items between different locations to achieve your goals, but I do wish there was a little more mystery and intrigue to them instead of having them spelled out to the letter. When you really are just ticking off a checklist to whittle away at the hours, for example, it’s a lot less fun than doing it when you’re still trying new things and figuring out how everything works. In these instances, I feel House House could have paid closer attention to the Hitman school of goose-foolery, as the multitudinous outcomes of IO’s various stealth-’em-up scenarios are all a lot vaguer, teasing you with puns or cryptic phrases that only hint at the delights to come.
Still, brief as it may be, Untitled Goose Game leaves a lasting impression – much like the geese of my youth. Our honk-meister general is a devious and thrilling villain to behold, and the level of detail that’s been poured into each of his hapless victims only serves to make them all the more endearing when you come flying in and take a giant dump on their perfectly ordered lives. It’s also finally given me the answer to my age-old question about what the deal with geese is. They are, in short, horrible, and there’s nothing you can do to stop them.