Phoning Home does something very important for me personally. It takes two types of gameplay that I am definitely not a fan of, and compelled me to want more:
- Escort Missions
These are two of my least favorite things. It’s gone on the record [more than once, if I can be frank] that being given infinite options, I tend to clam up and do nothing. It’s vexing, but it’s a part of my personality, and I at least own up to it. However, I never feel like I’m unsure of what I’m doing, because of your helpful, though sarcastic AI companion points out what you to need to do next, what you have to know, but seldom how to do things. He just gives you a destination and helps you figure out how to build the tools you need. The actual how becomes a puzzle that you have to worry about yourself. This is a world exploration/sandbox title, but it’s also definitely a survival title. You, as ION cannot exactly fight. You can, but it’s not good, or even smart. One of the downsides is that while this world is massive, and gorgeous. . . It feels incredibly empty. Maybe I’m reading too much into it, but even the raindrops splashing against the screen almost feel like tears. It’s a lonely life that ION has on this planet, at least at first. I kind of like that, though. It’s a world that is not technologically developed, has, as far as I’ve seen has no humans on it. It feels devoid of life, despite all of the flora, fauna, and occasional aggressive creature, your character is a tiny robot, reminiscent of WALL-E, or Johnny 5 from the 80s. Your goal is a throw-back to another old concept, you have to phone home.
But with that emptiness, it comes with a cost. It makes sense for the story, but the first couple of hours are maddening. Absolutely maddening. You spend so much time exploring, trying to find new materials to craft power cells, shields, fuel, circuit purges [health]. I do think it’s highly unlikely that these mushrooms and roots can come to create powerful fuels and energy shields, but hey. That’s why they are a superior society and intelligence. They clearly know something we don’t. But that’s not important! Keeping your stats up is so damn important, though. If you don’t have fuel, you can’t go traveling, and you aren’t exactly a tough little bot. Just getting kind of close to fire makes your health dwindle and fade away. In fact, I actually managed to die once or twice just trying to get into my ship. Okay, maybe more than once. The story feels kind of dark, kind of depressing, but little ION does eventually find what could be called love. When he does, the game changes from just an exploration/survival to one constant Escort Mission. She’s a bit tougher than ION, but you have to keep her with you and use all the cool tools you’ve crafted to help her get from point A to point B.
So while it’s a Sandbox, it gives you direction, gives you goals to see through. While you have to farm stuff and acquire materials to get by, and yes, it’s going to take ages, the map will point you to them once you’ve acquired one. You have an escort, that has to stay with you, and creates new puzzles for you to solve, it makes sense, and helps build an already interesting story. It’s challenging, it’s fun, but it is pretty damn grindy. All sandbox games are though, I think. It’s a cost of doing business. But this game does what I hoped it would do, and that’s invoke feelings, emotions. It invokes a lot of them. This is a world where everything and everyone struggles. It’s a savage, unforgiving world, where even the entities that natively live on it scratch and scrape to get by. It’s a cruel life, and I feel like Phoning Home shows us a little bit about ourselves and our own world. It’s hard to get by, and it might seem like a trial, but it’s not impossible. There’s a reason to go on, there’s always a reason. Sometimes we have to go searching for it. But it’s there, I promise. That’s one of the reason I love this game, despite it being things I natively do not like.
Give Me A Reason: 4/5
I love this game, I really do. It’s the little touches, like when your AI friend says that this planet could solve all of P1 [their home]’s issues with resources. Of course, they’d have to deoxygenize it; all that living matter would just get in the way. That was a not-so-subtle jab at how we treat resources. However, it’s incredibly frustrating to start off. Each of the ingredients you get for items you can only have a few of at a time in the outset, so you have to farm, make the stuff you need, farm more because you need other stuff. I would explore, accidentally die, or run out of fuel, crash and burn. He can’t take a bump, his starting “weapon” is a little pipe he can kind of swing. No matter how gorgeous this world is [and it’s absolutely freakin’ breathtaking], it can be very boring to just wander for supplies/ingredients. It drives me insane. The day to night transitions are also great, but it’s very hard to see some of the dangers in the dark. The story has made me very happy, and also kind of sad. It’s all really fascinating and engaging; I felt, and still feel compelled to go forward and see the end of this tale. What lies in store for poor little ION? It’s going to take some serious gameplay to see it to the end, and perseverance. But it’s worth it. It’s absolutely worth it.
Life is hard. But it’s worth living. That’s what I take away from Phoning Home.