Sometimes you can fall in love with a game before you've even played it, and we have to confess that this is very much the case with Untitled Goose Game. We've been intrigued by this quirky new stealth-puzzler from House House since we first clamped eyes on it, and the prospect of stealing sandwiches and causing all sorts of mischief while playing as a naughty goose had us enthralled before we'd even picked up a controller. Considering our unreasonably lofty expectations, we were braced to have our hopes dashed on the rocks, but we're pleased to say that in the end, we had a lovely time waddling through the sleepy sandbox village where the game takes place.
It's not a particularly long experience, and you'll be done with your first pass in a couple of hours, but in our case, what a delightful couple of hours they proved to be. Playing as the titular goose, your first opportunistic crime is stealing a tasty-looking sandwich that's just sitting there on a bench, tempting you, unprotected. This first act of anti-social behaviour is just one of many that you'll inflict on the people who live in this plain yet charming cel-shaded village, and before you know it you'll have annoyed pretty much all of them. Bad goose.
You progress by ticking off things from your to-do list, and pretty much everything on your list is a just a little bit naughty. As such grownups can expect to be constantly entertained by the invitation to be cheeky on-demand, and younger players will scream and shout in delight as they get up to all sorts of sanctioned mischief. We don't want to spoil the various things you'll get up to, but there's a nice selection of objectives to play around with, and once they're all done in one area your path opens up to the next.
One impressive element is the flexibility in terms of how you complete your objectives, and often you'll see that there are more ways to achieve your aims than are immediately obvious. You can lure and provoke human characters around the playspace, taking advantage of your goose-made distractions to advance into an area or move an item. Your goose can pick up items with its beak, carrying smaller objects and dragging certain larger ones. Sometimes this can be heard by those nearby, and the amount of noise made is displayed by cute pencil-like lines that appear around the item being moved.
Your goose can waddle or run, flap its wings, crouch down low (which is super useful when hiding under tables), but arguably your most important action is to belt out a great big "honk", which can grab the attention of the villagers and help you slip past them or grab something from under their noses. There's also a fair amount of stealth involved, as you wait for people to go about their business so you can sneak around them or grab something you need for whatever objective you're working on. It's thought-provoking, but it's also intuitive and not too challenging, which makes Untitled Goose Game genuine fun for all the family.
The visuals are particularly effective because they play into the cartoony slapstick style that veins through the game, but it's the soundtrack that really steals the show. The understated piano notes are adapted from Debussy's Preludes by composer Dan Golding, and the whole thing works to wonderfully complement the gentle and playful nature of the action on-screen, with the soundtrack building during more chaotic moments and then simmering down while the player works out what to do next.
As we mentioned before, Untitled Goose Game isn't particularly long, and most people will get it done in an hour or two, but there are secondary objectives that unlock once you've completed the main story (we're still smiling about the ending) and you can complete various speed-based challenges if you want to squeeze as much out of the experience as possible. There are plenty of reasons to return for more sneakiness, and that's not including the various ways that you can tackle past problems, but alas the experience won't last forever.
Despite being short and having one or two slightly obscure puzzles, Untitled Goose Game is a breezy delight and a game that parents will no doubt enjoy with their children. We don't say this lightly, but House House has crafted probably the most charming games we've ever played, and its greatest sin is that it's over far too soon. It might only take a couple of hours to see the highlights, but they'll be two of the most entertaining hours you'll spend with a game this year.