My only memories of geese are being chased by them at parks. There's this pond in Great Falls, Montana where you can drop a quarter for a handful of little pellets to feed the water fowl with. The ducks quack and swarm in little clusters, smiling with those upturned bills they have. The swans lazily orbit everything, too good for pellets. And the geese operate under no maxim. They charge the duck congregations if only to break them up, honk at swans for getting too close, and chase anyone attempting to make eye contact. Geese are grumpy agents of mild chaos, and now there's a videogame being made about them.
Untitled Goose Game (and yeah, they might just leave the name) is coming from House House, the team that brought us the cute and horrific Push Me Pull You. This time, the horror lies in puppeting an ungainly bird. You play a goose and do what geese do, just with the malice and dexterous nature of their bill exaggerated ever so slightly to make a game of it. As a goose, your only goal is to ruin everyone's extremely average domestic routine, though in the demo I played my only victim was a sweet gardener.
When the final game releases, you'll be able to torture an entire town, but for now I make a lazy hell out of this middle-aged man's day. To start, you're given a to-do list written in fancy cursive (but who wrote it?) detailing specific ways in which to harass. My first task is getting into the garden, and because a goose does not have hands, opening the gate myself won't do.
Spreading my wings
I start tinkering around with the controls. One button unfolds my wings in a grand display of my size and ferocity. Another enables a goose crouch, a slow, sneaky stealth stance. I can also bite down on objects with my beak and sprint, at least as much as a goose is capable. The best button just makes my goose honk. I hit it repeatedly, of course. Without realizing it, the gardener hears my honking and comes to the gate to behold my size and ferocity, but he just shakes his head and turns back. Excuse me?
Noticing two bags of fertilizer stacked on my side of the fence, I pinch one with my goose mouth and pull it towards the pond, honking to summon the gardener. He admonishes my work, shaking his head as he opens the gate. While he puts the bag back, I sprint through the opening and pull up as many carrots as I can. Fuck you, man. More carrots come up. Take that. This is a quiet violence, and it feels more rotten than anything I've done in GTA.
Wondering where game developers get their great ideas? Stuart Gillespie-Cook, one of the developers, posted a stock image of a goose in the House House group chat and said, 'We should make a game about this'. Inspiring.
I get to know the gardener through wrecking his work—is it his hobby or livelihood? The fact I don't know makes it worse. As I ruin 'something of importance' to this man, one item stands out. There's a rose planted in the center of its own plot, and when I rip it up and throw it on the ground, the gardener carries it ever-so-gently with both hands, cupping it like a small bird.
As a big bird, I don't give a damn, but as Human James™, I wonder what or who the rose is for. They must be very important. I see a portrait of a man that loves something or someone. But I'm a goose so whatever. I'm going to steal the poor bastard's keys.
Getting 'caught' by the gardener doesn't result in a fail state. As the goose, your wings rear up, you drop whatever you're holding, and you're limited to running away until your goose wings settle and your pursuer gets back to their business. I say this, because I get caught a lot while trying to steal his keys. My strategy so far has been to make a mess, wait for the gardener to go clean it up, and while he's bending over I'll sneak up and try to grab the keys hanging from his belt.
My timing has been pretty horrible though, and even when I manage to nab the keys, the gardener stands up fast enough to run me down. Even if he can outrun me, I eventually learn that I take corners faster than the old fart, and coupled with the discovery of a goose-sized hole in the back hedge, I manage to take off with his keys and toss them in the pond.
By the end of my session, I've barely accomplished anything on the in-game task list. I take it as a good sign. These are guiding principles meant to steer you into ruining the gardener's day, but by simply inhabiting the body of a goose with such natural controls, being an asshole comes naturally. The tasks feel secondary to poking around the world to see what a goose is truly capable of.
Most of my interactions were the result of me moving something from its original spot and the AI reacting to place it back. I'm not sure how creative the puzzles and pranks such a simple system is capable of, so I hope House House goes wild with the characters of the town and gives them unique behaviors. And if enough of the items interact with the world (ie keys locking gates), then we could have a goose-themed Hitman-lite on our hands. Otherwise, I worry that Untitled Goose Game's physical comedy will run its course too quickly, relying too much on simple distractions to wreak havoc.