Not another busy signal.
I’ll be perfectly honest, I originally didn’t like Phoning Home. I found the world to be far too open and full of nothing, exploration was slow and plodding, and the controls to be too finicky in some spots while far too slow in others. Then I made a conscious decision to actually try to figure the game out. When I did, and progressed the story a bit more, I found myself enjoying it much more. Don’t get me wrong, everything I just mentioned is true for the game, but the farther I got, the more it grew on me.
Phoning Home has players controlling ION. ION is a little resource gathering robot who has crash landed on an uninhabited planet. At least, that’s what we’re led to believe. While exploring the world, ION must gather materials to repair his ship in hopes of making it back to his home planet. His guide for all of this is his ship’s AI, who has a rather quirky outlook on organic life all to the voice of a British man. Along the way, ION runs into another marooned robot named ANI whom he must keep track of while trying to figure out how to escape.
Price I’d pay: $15
The game is mainly an open world survival game – gathering resources to craft fuel for flying, hull repair for healing, weapons, tools, and objective-based items. The difference is, there is always a story objective to do that pushes the player on. I’m not just aimlessly running around gathering things. Well, I was at the beginning parts of the game, but more on that later. The story driven part of the game is really what kept me going. It is well voice acted, and once I progressed, the world itself became one of mystery that I wanted to figure out.
After finding ANI, the game shifts to a more escort mission based game. Now, I know what everyone is thinking. Escort missions are bad nine times out of ten, but keep an open mind. I never actually minded escorting ANI. In fact, she was more capable in fighting off the wildlife than ION was. ANI has limited mobility so I had to use tools like the tether to bring her to different areas of the map. Every once in a while the ANI AI would go a little bonkers and I saw that she wasn’t following me, but for the most part, when I instructed her to follow me, she did just that.
The game really all revolves around resource gathering and management. Keeping both ION and ANI healed up and refueled was very important, and in some instances finding the right materials for that became a chore. This is due to two things – the open world itself is vast and not very populated, and finding new resources can be an issue if one doesn’t know what to look for. When scanning new resources, they then appear on the map/compass a la Skyrim style, but when making something that requires a material I hadn’t discovered I then had to roam the countryside trying to figure out what I needed to scan. It felt like busy work when this occurred.
The game boasts its options for full controller support, but when I tried it out, the configuration was all over the place. I had to remap practically every button, which is not a big deal. What was a big deal was the look sensitivity. I turned it all the way up and the camera still moved at a snail’s pace. I then decided this was going to be a mouse and keyboard game for me. The controls itself can be dodgy. ION has thrusters that allow him to fly short heights, but there is a short delay on when they start, so I would always find myself ramming into a wall or rock before taking flight. It just felt off at times.
While the world is beautiful in many aspects, the frame rate suffered a bit from it at times, and while huge and open, it was often times empty. That was what really turned me off from the game in the beginning. I had this open world I wanted to explore, but quickly realized there was nothing there to find. Of course, after finding ANI, that all changed to a more straight forward experience that lead me to all kinds of areas.
In the end, Phoning Home has some issues to it. and the first couple of hours are the roughest part of the game as far as exploration and pacing goes, but if you take your time with it and progress, the game does get much better. Originally, I was going to be so down on this game, but after putting some more time into it, I got used to the controls as best I could then began enjoying my time with ION and ANI. For $20, you can definitely do a lot worse than this. Just remember to keep an open mind before jumping directly in.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.