Untitled Goose Game--a game in which you play as a jerk goose who waddles through a small English town ruining everyone's day-- feels like a miniature version of Hitman, but with mischief instead of murder. Like those games, it's all about learning an environment inside-out and figuring out how to play various people and systems against each other to achieve your goals. You wander between four small, quaint locations and tick off objectives from your list by wreaking havoc on the people you encounter and generally being a nuisance. At first, you're annoying a man as he tends to his garden, turning on his sprinklers as he stands over them, stealing the keys to his gate, nicking his produce, and generally getting in his way. The game continues like this, as the goose's to-do list demands that it causes upset to most of the people it encounters. Working through the game means figuring out how each element interacts with everything else and how to corralling various people, who all react to the goose differently.
It's a comedy first and foremost. Figuring out how to complete each objective might be essential to your progress, but the real fun is in seeing how harried you can make everyone. When you need to make a man spit out his tea, steal his shoes, and ruin his garden, you might start to feel sorry for him, but you also won't want to stop terrorizing him. The goose can only run, grab onto things, honk, and flap its wings, but through some combination of these actions you can manipulate the folks you encounter and cause chaos. One character might run in fear if you honk at them; another might bend over if you drop something for them, giving you a chance to steal their hat; another might leave their post if you steal something of theirs and drop it far away, giving you the chance to go back while they're distracted and steal the object you were really after all along.
The humor of Untitled Goose Game is built into the mechanics and animations; seeing the goose waddle along, honking and flapping its wings, is inherently amusing and satisfying even before you start causing mischief because of how perfectly evocative it is of a real bird. The clean, colorful visual style is also a treat. But the reactive soundtrack is what really sells the goose's charms. The music, based on Claude Debussy's Préludes, springs into action dynamically based on the goose's actions, punctuating moments when it shocks someone and adding a buoyancy to any scene involving a chase. It gives the game a feeling of farce; at its best, it's reminiscent of a Buster Keaton film, especially since there's no dialogue.
The objectives you're asked to complete often require some lateral thinking. Getting into the headspace of the goose and figuring out how a few actions can spiral into something that's going to annoy one of your targets is very entertaining. Sometimes it's immediately clear what you need to do, and sometimes the solution is more abstract, but most objectives will name an object that you can find within the environment. In the second location, for instance, you're told to "get on TV"--the solution isn't immediately obvious, but finding the TV you need to interact with is not difficult. Untitled Goose Game lightly leads you towards its puzzle solutions without explicitly holding your hand through them, so figuring out a clever solution is rewarding.
You need to complete all but one objective in each location to advance, which is a nice concession, as it means you can progress to the next area even if one of the puzzles just isn't clicking for you. Sometimes it's just a matter of figuring out what needs to be done and then doing it, but you also need to practice some level of finesse: The goose can't get too close to anyone who's going to try to shoo it away, and you'll often need to be stealthy, sneaking under tables, causing distractions, and hiding behind bushes and in boxes like a long-necked, web-toed Solid Snake.
Each area also features a fetch quest objective, for which you need to gather several items and put them in one place while making sure that you're not caught. These objectives are the least fun, generally, because too much is left to the imagination; the first one asks you to "have a picnic" by dragging a variety of particular items to a picnic blanket, but once you've done so the objective is immediately complete, with no additional vignettes or animations to reward all that effort. Untitled Goose Game's best objectives reward you not only with a feeling of satisfaction, but with a fun, charming bit of interaction between the goose and the people it encounters, whether that means watching a man stumble around with a bucket on his head or watching someone else wearily resign themselves to their favorite hat being gone.
Untitled Goose Game is also extremely short. When I reached the end, I was surprised at how little time it had taken--I had only been playing for about two hours. Thankfully, after the credits roll you unlock a new list of objectives across the now fully unlocked map, but there isn't the same incentive to complete them when you know that you won't be rewarded with a new location to explore, or even, necessarily, new interactions. Most of them are twists on previous objectives or more complicated versions of things you've already done, often involving moving items between different locations.
I'm glad that those extra objectives are there, though, and I had a good time working through them. It's just a shame that there isn't a bit more, because Untitled Goose Game ends far before I felt like I'd had my fill or seen everything the game was going to throw at me. Being short isn't inherently bad, but Untitled Goose Game's playground could stand to be bigger. I wished that I could keep riding the high of unlocking new areas and messing with new people, and it still felt like there was plenty of room to escalate things.
For all the jerkiness I performed, my favorite moment in Untitled Goose Game was the one scene where the game leaned into the goose's charms. I wandered up behind two people having a chat at the pub and hit the button dedicated to honking. The two women turned to look at me, startled, but far less hostile than most of the characters I'd encountered. When I stood in a specific spot they mimed commands for me to perform, fulfilling one of my objectives while absolutely delighting the two women. Untitled Goose Game is a hilariously antagonistic experience most of the time, but I identified strongly with these characters and how lovable they found this horrible goose.
The important thing is that Untitled Goose Game is a hoot. It's a comedy game that focuses on making the act of playing it funny, rather than simply being a game that features jokes. Wishing that it was longer speaks to how much fun I had with it. There's nothing else quite like Untitled Goose Game; it's charming and cute despite being mean, and both very silly and very clever. It's also probably the best non-racing game ever to feature a dedicated "honk" button.