Yet most of us have a memory, perhaps from childhood, probably involving a plastic bag of stale bread, when we were harangued by one of these quarrelsome birds who had seemingly woken up on the wrong side of the pond. We are used to playing as morally complex individuals in video games; even the heroes typically leave a genocidal trail of dead behind them.Hold one button to run rather than waddle, one to lean down, another to flap your wings, another to grab or drop things—and that’s it, really. Objectives are presented via a ‘to do’ list in the pause menu, and almost exclusively involve making the lives of the villagers miserable.At the other end of this spectrum there are the more intimate titles from indie directors, some of which are made by teams as small as one person. Journey. Celeste. Cuphead. These titles challenge our expectations of gaming and, free from the demands of frenzied console fanbases, rewrite our definition of the medium itself.
They’re equal parts haughty and inscrutably mean. They while away their days performing mundane acts of domestic terrorism—blocking paths, honking angrily at anyone who dares approach them, and just generally displaying a smug, unearned confidence. The power fantasy underlying Untitled Goose Game is a tantalizing if dark glimpse into the most remote recesses of the psyche.You run around a lovely, minimalist English village honking, flapping your wings, and generally doing goose things as you clear off a hand-written checklist full of mischievous goose tasks.You’re given a to-do list to fulfill, and items get crossed out one by one as you complete the tasks from your depraved goose agenda. Some of the challenges are straightforward — get an item from point A to point B without being ambushed — while others are more like small puzzles to solve, where one item can be used to set off a chain of reactions and lead you to the next area to terrorize.Now, I’ve already decided I like the game beforehand—the waddling animation is endlessly captivating, and it is literally impossible to dislike a game that opens with “press X to honk”—but my first human encounter really seals the deal.Your mission: Waddle around a placid British town and ruin everyone’s day. You can crane your neck, hunch down, splay out your wings, and honk your bill. It’s stupid. Utterly inane. Devoid of even the slightest trace of commentary or intellectual discourse. But, like Andy Kaufman singing the theme song of Mighty Mouse, or those tomatoes plants that are randomly growing in the East River in New York City, the goose game is that rare yet absolutely delightful phenomenon that begs the question.
Each environment seamlessly flows together, but you’ve got to complete most (though not all) objectives on a list before you can move on to the next. Objectives, you will not be shocked to learn, center around ruining people’s days.It’s not an exaggeration to compare it to the likes of Hitman or Metal Gear Solid, just with goose-based shenanigans replacing all that icky murder. Slowly creeping up behind an unsuspecting sap who is holding an item you need or using strategically placed walkie-talkies to lure some mook away with HONKs never failed to make me laugh.The dynamic piano soundtrack, an adaptation of Debussy’s Préludes, crescendoes the more havoc is being wreaked. The music will start up as you’re wrestling with the gardener for his keys, and stop when the keys are dropped. The piano melody turns frantic as you’re being chased out by an angry shopkeeper with a broom, and slows down when you’re in the clear.What would happen if someone squeaked on the tap just as he was leaning in to get a better look at his carrots? In Untitled Goose Game you must often think like Charlie Chaplin or Buster Keaton: surveying each new scene for its slapstick potential as you seek to fulfil the handful of back-of-a-postcard objectives set by the game’s authors. Then again, sometimes being a quintessentially horrible goose requires nothing more than honking loudly and flapping one’s wings at a passerby. I then make a run for the lake, honking triumphantly as he gives chase, dropping them into my watery domain far out of his reach before smugly paddling around without a care in the world. Later, I’ll get the poor sod wet, steal his lunch, make him buy back his own trowel, and more.
Stomping around this peaceful English village, Untitled Goose Game is the first title I’ve played since Spider-Man that feels, well, free—unlike games since Spider-Man such as Red Dead 2 and God of War, which burdened us with the oppressive task of staying alive under tragic circumstances.In the more crowded tavern area, you might need to be a little stealthier, sneaking in by hopping inside a delivery person’s box and crawling around in the space beneath a patio to avoid the bouncer who doesn’t want you anywhere near the establishment’s patrons. Then, and only then, can you carry out your master plan of dropping a bucket on his head.The foul deeds required of you can range from stealing food for a picnic to nabbing a gardener’s keys off his belt to untying a little boy’s shoelaces, scaring him until he runs away and trips, then quickly stealing his glasses and letting him blindly search the ground until you bring him the wrong pair back. It is gloriously malevolent. Who wrote this list? That much is unclear, but we know whoever did has a special kind of hatred in their heart.Instead, you drive them crazy with the gentlest of pranks, like making a boy (lovingly cast as “Wimp” in the credits) put on glasses that are not his. Untitled Goose Game lets you fall into the calming, pleasant escapism of an Animal Crossing game, where there are no real stakes — just the absolute freedom to be an animal that doesn’t have to answer to any consequences.What has elevated Untitled Goose Game above a simple, one-note gag (and from being any of the 10,000 poorer variations of how the idea might have turned out in less-able hands) is the finesse of its ideas and the precision of its observations. The goose waddles with exactly the authentic combination of conceit and threat, the comic waggle of its tail feathers juxtaposed with the menace of its rasping tongue.
Every villager stands up to your ruthless antics—chasing you if they catch you stealing, a few even determinedly shooing you away before you’ve had a chance to do anything—except this boy. The poor lad in question is terrified of you, which shouldn’t be funny at all, but is absolutely hilarious. He runs away when you chase him with menacing honks, which is funny enough (not to mention the fact that you can untie his shoelaces and make him fall over), but he also serves as a demonstration of how this is, at its heart, an action puzzle game.Hell, even people who don’t play video games should be able to understand this sentiment. If you have a free moment, there’s nothing wrong with a little brainless fun.Or you steal somebody’s slippers and repeatedly drop them in a pond so they have to slowly, painstakingly retrieve them. There’s a cat-and-mouse element to these human-and-goose battles of wit and will, but at the same time, it’s not like people are going to murder you. If you mess up, they’ll just take back their stuff or push you off the premises with a broom.It’s hard to describe the strange pleasure Untitled Goose Game elicited as I let out triumphant victory honks while the gardener stood on the edge of the water shaking his head in frustration.