Untitled Goose Game is a stealth puzzle game developed by House House in Melbourne and published by Panic. In it, you are a goose causing mischief in an otherwise peaceful village. Set in a nondescript and quaint little town, it’s your job to cause mayhem and make sure the villagers have an awful day.
When you first boot up the game, there isn’t much in your environment that indicates you’re about to terrorise a small community. You wake up in a deep green bush with a honk, and wander past a tranquil and beautiful blue river. As you waddle along, you learn how to flap your wings, duck, run, and crouch through the game’s simple tutorial. But things don’t stay peaceful for long; once you swim across a small lake, you enter a park where you encounter a picnic blanket, a farmer working away in a small vegetable garden and several gates leading to more populated areas. The gates are locked, but the game quickly provides you with a to-do list that includes tasks like stealing the farmer’s lunch, dropping his rake in the lake and setting the sprinkler off on him. Once you work your way through enough tasks on the list, a new task appears that, when completed, allows you to open one of the locked gates and progress to the next stage of the game.
With its simple controls, endearing graphics and straightforward goals, it might seem like you can easily complete Untitled Goose Game in an hour or so. But crossing tasks off your dastardly to-do list is more complicated than it first appears; areas are laid out like puzzles, and to complete a task you’ll need to observe everything in your environment. NPCs’ thoughts, actions, and routines are conveyed through thought bubbles floating above their heads. This mechanic allows you to strategise in advance, and be an extra cunning and calculating goose when it comes to stealing objects.
You’ll need every ounce of the goose cunning you possess too, because often tasks on your to-do list are oddly cryptic. You’ll have to use objects from your environment that might not immediately stand out to you to solve the puzzle, and often you’ll have to steal them quickly if you don’t want to get caught. Luckily, the controls are easy to master, making it straightforward to hone your thieving skills. Every now and then, though, the controls feel a bit clunky when you try to grab an object, but thanks to the game’s autosave mechanic and its option to reset all objects to their original position, you can easily try different strategies without losing your progress in the game.
To me, the way Untitled Goose Game prompts you to keep experimenting with your environment is one of the things that makes it work as a game. Solutions are rarely obvious or straightforward, and it’s easy to while away the hours dragging useless junk around, just to test out possibilities. Not to mention you can annoy everyone around you in the process. The reactions from NPCs when they realise what’s happening are often priceless, resulting in hilarious moments of true slapstick humour.
“…Untitled Goose Game is a true indie masterpiece.”
These moments of hilarity are strengthened by the look and feel of the game. The music, for example, contributes a lot to the comedic delivery of a scene. Consisting of a few simple piano chords, the music only comes in when you make certain choices as a player, like sneaking around, honking, or trying to steal an object. On top of this, the game’s setting reminded me strongly of wholesome and idyllic villages you might encounter in Wallace and Gromit or Thomas the Tank Engine, and the game cleverly uses character archetypes and locations like the farmer, the shopkeeper, the High Street, or the pub to build on the humour of a situation without using any dialogue.
Everything you do in-game is propelled by the game’s narrative, not despite it. For example, when you finish one level and move on to the next the game doesn’t explicitly tell you that you’ve gone to ‘level 2’. Instead, a scene plays out in front of you that unlocks one of the garden gates, giving you access to a new area of the village. These factors contribute to a wonderfully uninterrupted and immersive story. Put simply, once you boot up the game, you’re in full goose mode. There’s nothing to distract you from being a goose on a mission.
The power of Untitled Goose Game lies in its simplicity and its impressive use of non-verbal narrative. Even though it’s an indie game developed by a small team, it’s easy to see why the game has made such a big splash. It’s incredibly entertaining and immediately pulls you in through its original and refreshingly non-violent premise. While Untitled Goose Game seems to be marketed primarily as a simple comedy game for casual gamers, it delivers on stealth and puzzle mechanics without sacrificing humour or leaning on the narrative as a crutch. The to-do list offers just enough mystery to prod you along, and with its cryptic clues, it’s sure to keep you guessing.