Untitled Goose Game is available on PC, Nintendo Switch, Playstation 4, and XBox One.
Untitled Goose Game is the best role-playing game I played in 2019.
Sure, it's billed as a puzzle and a stealth game. But at its core, it's the purest form of video-game sandbox that I've experienced in years.
The point of a sandbox is, in theory, its lack of structure. Set a child down in a literal one or a player down in a digital one, and they can set their own objectives or fulfill given ones in any which-way they choose. In practice, video games aren't always great about enabling this. Nearly all “open-world sandboxes” feature a repeated set of structured activities; collect all the orc eyeballs, win all the footraces, scale all the grain silos. Not much actual freedom in going down a checklist.
And while the Untitled Goose Game does contain a literal checklist, that hardly feels like the point.
The point is in the goose.
Yes, almost all of the game's objectives lean into your mischievous nature. But there's something about the low-fidelity, concept-forward way that the game is built that encourages you to experiment within those bounds.
There's a good reason why the game's official description is so pointed:
“It's a lovely morning in the village, and you are a horrible goose.”
The fact that it doesn't mention a lick about gameplay should be telling. That's where the game's focus is; it's not really on puzzles or stealth. It is, at its core, a pure embodiment of role playing.
Becoming a goose was a delight.
Watching people put their own spin on a goose is every bit as delightful.
Sir Goosewick the Terrible
I swear, I've seen as many different playstyles of this game as I have people.
I've watched as people give The Goose every charitable benefit of the doubt. Steal a hat from the uptight neighbor and drop it in the artist's lawn? They're simply helping the latter with their creative projects! Dig up the gardener's carrot patch? That's just helping him with his harvest!
I've seen people indulge fully, taking The Goose to its logical end. Objectives become secondary. Your only true goal is to cause the shopkeep as much of a headache as possible. Nothing may stay in its place; all the world must become a disorderly mess.
And me? I go full-prankster, giggling all the way. Gaslighting the townsfolk just to see how they react. Helpfully playing along with the old man's ring-toss game only to throw him off-balance at the last minute. Leaping full-bore out of a hiding space, giving myself up just to watch a startled child trip over himself.
And do you know what? I'm sure the three of us didn't play most of the game terribly differently.
The difference mainly comes down to one thing:
I've played a lot of role-playing video games over the years, but the thing that seems to trip me about them is assumed intent. No matter what nuances you want to give your character, a story can rarely acknowledge them. The best thing it can do is throw the player into one of a few “buckets”.
Take last year's The Outer Worlds for example. You have a wealth of smaller choices within the game. Sometimes, that's whether you want to solve a quest with thievery or bribery (or the ever-profitable “both”). Sometimes, it's as little as whether to speak harshly or sympathetically to a cavalier crew member. But the longer arc of the game's plot can only ends in a limited number of ways. There's no viable option to land anywhere except in one camp of the game's central conflict, staring down the opposite side.
This was a particularly bad catch for my own character, a hard-nosed accountant who'd sell out a shady contact and then undercut the buyer for her own gain. Naturally, when given the choice to collect the bounty on a proven-criminal main character, I fully intended to do so and then immediately turn and go my own way. After committing to the deed, however, the game proceeded with the assumption that I was fully devoted to the buyer's ideology, because why else would you give up a shady and mentally-unstable renegade?
There's no room for compromise in The Outer Worlds, I guess, nor much space for complexity; only eagerly aligning with power or fully with rebellion.
But with Untitled Goose Game?
Granted, it benefits immensely from not having much in the way of a story to begin with. As it self-states, the game is about a goose doing Goose Things. The less said about that, the less the game has to twist itself to fit whatever the player is doing. There are loads of different kinds of geese, after all.
Proper role-playing games, on the other hand, have to fulfill a specific narrative. Unless you're playing in-person, with a human who can react to and construct new stories on-the-fly around your decisions, you by definition have to fit on some track that leads you to a cathartic ending. And, since we haven't yet built machines that can dynamically generate a satisfying third act, that means you end up being funneled into something pre-baked, that has to bounce off of certain assumptions as a matter of course.
Untitled Goose Game is much simpler. The only assumption is that you are behaving vaguely like a goose who likes to swipe objects. Everything about why you swipe objects, or from whom, or whether you're even mean-spirited about it, is left up in the air.
There's no need to conform to some long narrative.
You are your own
Game Goose Master.
And, as such, you are free to live out your own goosey desires to your own goosey ends. The game's blissful lack of dialogue means that there's no assumptions made about the titular goose. He simply is whatever exists in your own mind. He doesn't even have a specific set of abilities that imply certain traits, or a backstory for you to live out vividly.
The goose is what you make of them. They're a blank canvas, waiting for you to express yourself within this little clockwork section of the world.
And I can't think of a purer, truer expression of “Role Playing” in a game.