Phoning Home – First Impressions

Phoning Home – First Impressions
Phoning Home (PC [Reviewed])
Developer: ION LANDS
Publisher: ION LANDS

Phoning Home is an atmospheric story-driven exploration survival game.

You play as a mute robot named ION, and you crash land on an alien planet. With the guidance of the ship’s AI, you must find a way to phone home for help. Not long into your mission, you come across another robot named ANI. The two of you must work together as strange alien life emerges, and the planet itself defies the laws of nature. I find the story interesting, and I definitely get that Wall-E meets E.T. vibe, but with a different tone for the narrative.

The majority of the game is essentially a walking simulator. Exploration is often necessary in order to find the resources you need to craft the tools you’ll need to survive. You’ll also need to guide, carry, maintain, and protect another robot ANI. I wish I could have just left her somewhere, but she requires upkeep. As far as walking simulators go, the game is enjoyable for the first couple hours, until I hit a large desert area From that point on I became so incredibly bored and frustrated trying to reach the objectives.

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After finally repairing the first tower, a storm came, and she said to go ahead and explore, and that she would catch up after the storm ended, so I did. The storm lifted, but she never followed, so I was unable to progress without losing a ton of progress (that I wasn’t willing to repeat). Autosaves occurred after I had gotten a fair ways away, so I couldn’t find my way back up again. After my initial frustrations with finding my way up in the first place, and ANI not following like she said she would, I did my best to finish up the mission without her, but couldn’t,  so I gave up. In hindsight, I should have manually saved more frequently, but I also think having to manually save often hurts the immersion. I think more options from autosaves to load might have helped a lot.

Pros:
  • lots of exploration, so having a scanner to detect and identify nearby resources and the compass for direction are good features in the game
  • survival mechanics are reasonable, and aren’t too bad to manage as long as you are actively crafting and exploring
  • the combat is a nice addition to add some excitement to the gameplay – you can take part in the combat, or choose to avoid it (the combat is easy, but some of the creatures spawning startled me a few times)
  • interesting story (and I would have liked to have seen how it all turned out)
  • environments look fantastic, the characters are adorable, and there are some cool creatures to see
  • the voice acting is done very well; and both the music and the atmosphere are great (I love the sound of the rain; it’s so pleasant, and calming!)

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Cons:
  • you have to find the exact paths to take in order to scale the mountains in the desert area, but the hills are saturated with areas that LOOK like paths you can climb to get to the objective – I often found myself so close to the top of where I needed to go, only to be unable to climb or thrust any higher (invisible walls?), and then just slide all the way back down the mountain again; having this happen countless times ruined any hopes of exploration for me, and the game just became boring and frustrating
  • thrusters are inconsistent – at times you barely get any lift at all, while other times you get decent height with the exact same amount of thrust power (it’s irritating to miss a jump and take fall damage because of it
  • ANI gets stuck, and doesn’t always follow when she should; a storm came, she said to go and explore and she would catch up after, but she never did – the storm lifted, she never followed, and I was unable to progress without losing a ton of progress (that I wasn’t willing to repeat)
  • the game autosaved right as I was falling to my death, leaving me in a loop of dying (thank goodness I had quick saved and manually saved not too long before, but autosaves like that should never happen in the first place)
  • you’ll be babysitting a lot – protecting and maintaining ANI is a neat idea, but it usually feels like more of an hassle than anything else, and she nags a lot when you don’t tend to her needs quickly
  • (nitpick) if you don’t explore the right locations, you can easily miss out on a huge stock of resources that you will probably need (and maybe die without getting) – at one point in the game, I had to reload an earlier save to farm more resources before going into the next area, because I wasn’t able to progress
  • (nitpick) the constant beeping of ANI got on my nerves a bit
  • (nitpick) controls are customizable, except that thumb mouse buttons are not supported, and while the game has controller support, it’s as good as it could be

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I played the game for a bit over 5 hours, and the last 3 hours of that time I wanted to stop playing. The game has a solid start, but it grew tiresome. I would have liked to have seen how the story progressed, but unfortunately, I felt so discouraged that I lost the will to continue.

Conclusion:

Yes, Phoning Home looks amazing, sounds great, and has an intriguing story. I’m sure some people will enjoy it, and I’m happy for those who do. However, I cannot recommend Phoning Home, as I did not enjoy a large portion of the experience. Simply put, I was just not having fun with it enough to want to see it through. It’s not very often that I don’t want to finish a game, but this is one of those times. After walking around for what felt like forever hoping to find the correct path among hundreds of pseudo paths took simply its toll. My boredom and frustration claimed victor, and I stopped playing.