It’s fun being an asshole. While video games have almost always allowed us to live out a consequence-free jerk lifestyle, perhaps no other game so perfectly encapsulates the thrill than Untitled Goose Game.
Here’s the setup: You’re a goose. Geese are jerks. Go into this quaint English town with your dedicated honk button and terrorize a few kids, shopkeepers, and gardeners in increasingly inventive ways, and… That’s it, really. Over the course of one to two hours, you’ll do your best to generally be a nuisance in ways that feel charming, if not downright rude.
While Untitled Goose Game does a bang-up job of letting you steal shoes and knock over garden fences, it’s the background of all these adventures in mayhem I’ll remember most. The town our dastardly goose finds himself in is the kind anyone who grew up in a rural or painfully suburban community will probably remember. There’s the store owner who likes to badger kids who are just having a good time, the nosy neighbors who are painfully up in one another’s business, or the local tough-guy bouncer who painstakingly guards the door to a tavern with three people in it.
As I worked my way through each area’s checklist of deeds, I found myself having the most fun simply messing with the perfect little facade each of these busybodies had built for themselves. Take the gentleman reading his newspaper in the yard while his neighbor works on dressing her lawn statues. He’s got himself a prize-winning rose tucked away in his garden, and it would just destroy him to see it accidentally snipped by the neighbor. Perhaps it would drive him so mad he’d accidentally destroy something of hers. All the while, if any townsperson catches you flapping about with something you shouldn’t have, they’re all too quick to shoo you away or rip it out of your honker. There’s also the young boy playing soccer in the street who runs like he’s got a full Pamper, and weeps whenever the goose gets too close. Stick around long enough, and it can kind of feel like every adult in town is just shaking their heads at his brittleness.
Every individual puzzle essentially involves either stealing something, moving an item to another location, or making it so one of the various townspeople experiences a less-than-pleasant accident. If that sounds a little like a description of the Hitman stealth action games, you’re not wrong; there’s just notably less (read: no) blood. Every puzzle feels just smart enough that it won’t be solved by your first guess. Even better, each puzzle usually results in something that’ll put a sinister grin on your face.
As a place, the town itself is laughably similar to the English village of Sandford in Simon Pegg’s Hot Fuzz, for some reasons I won’t dare spoil, and for others that just make sense thematically. It’s not that hard to imagine something nefarious (or perhaps just petty) going on in the background here. As a shopkeeper chased me down the street for stealing a pair of sunglasses, I may have caught myself yelling “hag!”
Point being, if you live or work in a place like this long enough, you get to meet a lot of these types. I certainly did while working as a public librarian, sifting among the elderly. You end up getting a lot of time wondering how you’d get back at that schoolteacher for demanding her 100 books be processed five minutes past closing time. In real life, it’s not so easy, but as a goose, I am a big honkin’ god.
Like living in a small town, unfortunately you may find yourself waiting a while for something to happen, and this feels like Untitled Goose Game’s most notable flaw. Every townsperson is on a bit of a rotation, and not always a perfect one. A gardener might return to his pumpkin patch once or twice before he walks by the sprinkler you need to hose him with, so by the end of it all I felt like my goose may have aged enough to lay an egg or two.
Very much unlike small town living, however, the runtime of Untitled Goose Game is very brief. You’ll easily finish the game in no more than two hours, and though I am usually in favor of shorter games, it does feel a bit underdone. I ultimately can’t find fault with developer House House though, seeing as how they are but four people.
I made the move from the Illinois suburbs to Los Angeles only a few short months ago, and though Untitled Goose Game is decidedly more European in style, it evokes plenty of memories of small-town life no matter where you may have grown up. Though its titular goose may present itself as the town’s true menace, every meddling grandma and gossiping baby boomer in that town deserves the honking that they get.