Geese are dicks. I know that, and you know that. I don’t think there’s a single person who hasn’t got a story to share about being terrorised by these feathered menaces, these long-necked shits. My own involves cycling home on the Hertford Union Canal and coming across a small blockade just outside Victoria Park as other cyclists were threatened by one very angry, very aggressive goose. Then, after a short while, it started to attack standers-by, swinging its beak at exposed shins and hissing, its grotesque spiky tongue flapping as it went. Eventually, someone just had enough and kicked the goose square in the neck, forcing it to saunter off. Good. Geese are dicks.
Untitled Goose Game knows that geese are dicks, and makes a virtue of it. Indeed, it makes an entire game out of it, because here you are the goose, terrorising a small village that gently unlocks as you progress through the short adventure. Be the arsehole. Live the dream. It’s a concept so pure, so universal, that developer House House didn’t even have to bother coming up with a name for its game. You know from the off what it involves. You know from its brilliantly unvarnished name that you want to play it.
And when you do, it’s glorious. The first few minutes spent in Untitled Goose Game’s company are side-splittingly hilarious – it’s no wonder this thing became a small Twitter phenomenon when early gameplay videos first did the rounds – and House House deliver on all the promise the concept implies. The detail here is wonderful, most notably in the goose itself and the pat-pat-pat of its webbed feet, the swagger of its waddle, the bark of its honk. Look at the little jerk go!
The meticulous realisation of the goose is met by an equally detailed world, full of things to prod and poke and people to antagonise. There’s a whimsy to this world, too, its flat-shaded textures and gently parochial nature of its town drawing to mind standards of any English 80s childhood such as Trumpton or Camberwick Green (which makes it all the more surprising that the devs themselves are Australian), and it’s underlined by a gentle, effective piano soundtrack that perfectly meets your actions. The mischief you get up to also feels like it’s been pulled from the 4.30pm slot on CBBC, as you’re chased through someone’s garden with their dirty washing trailing from your beak.
Making mischief is the game, and the underlying structure of Untitled Goose Game owes a lot to adventure classics of the 90s, bringing that same sort of twisted logic and puzzle solving to the small sandbox you’re kicking around in. Each small area comes with its own set of objectives, some easily achieved – steal the groundkeeper’s keys, for example – while others require a great deal more inventiveness. Need to make someone buy back an item they already own? Then maybe you’ll have to scare the young boy playing with his toy aeroplane so he drops it, then steal it and sneak it onto the local market stall while no-one’s watching. And after that, sit back and let chaos ensue.
It’s a curious mix of styles, part-LucasArts adventure, part physics-based silliness and part Hitman, and while it works more often than not there are moments where fun gives way to frustration. Some of the puzzles are a little too abstruse, leading to a handful of bottlenecks along the way – though they’re often just as easily solved by walking away and thinking through Untitled Goose Game’s own particular logic. What, exactly, would a rascal goose do in this situation?
In that way, Untitled Goose Game fulfills its brief admirably. You are the baddest goose! What’s more impressive is that it all hangs together so well, and provides something that’s surprisingly rare in video games – pure, deep belly laughs.
Untitled Goose Game started as a joke in House House’s Slack channel, and it’s astounding how much mileage they’ve found in the gag. This is slapstick – the ultimate form of humour – and it’s slapstick of the highest order. There’s something quite classical about how its slapstick expresses itself, and how beautifully engineered it is, that makes Untitled Goose Game really stand out – if Goat Simulator is an old Farrelly Bros. film, then Untitled Goose Game is as refined and stylish as a Jacques Tati standard. It’s a perfectly formed little troublemaker.