I really wanted to like Phoning Home, I really did. The game’s story is reminiscent of Pixar’s Wall-E, and it’s almost an inverted telling of it: instead of a little robot abandoned on Earth long after humans have left, Phoning Home stars a little robot who has crash-landed on Earth, long before humans existed. The little robot finds a little robot girl and they go off together to try and figure out what’s going on.
Players take control of ION, a robot who can jet around, collect resources, build tools, and blast things with a small laser cannon. Phoning Home begins with ION crash-landing on a planet that is presumably Earth (there was a pterodactyl that shows up in the first minute, so it’s clear that players are dealing with pre-historic Earth). Once orientated, the ship’s A.I. system kicks in and serves as the game’s guide, teaching players how to go about playing the game.
The A.I. character was easily the best part of the game. His lines were witty and, at times downright interesting, —he compared seeds to bombs, for example, in regards to how the trees explode out from them. The voice actor for the A.I. delivered the lines flawlessly and with impeccable dry humor .
Unfortunately the voice acting was not enough to keep me invested in Phoning Home. The game just was not fun, for me.
As ION, players must scoot the slow-moving robot around the environment and collect various resources that are used to build the necessary tools needed to progress through the game. Within the first hour I had repaired part of my own ship, part of the girl robot’s ship, and turned myself into a robotic Swiss Army Knife of futuristic tools. Sure, there was a lot of slow-paced resource gathering, but I was hopeful that the game just was off to a slow start, for tutorial purposes.
By hour two I was struggling to keep interest.
Phoning Home never felt immersive. As much as I was hearing the sounds of animals all around me, apart from the seldom-seen pterodactyl and some idly-fluttering butterflies, there was no sign of regular fauna. At one point I encountered two giant rock creatures, but they just stood in one spot and roared at me, I literally scooted right around them (which was a very disappointing experience), and I also ran into a swarm of angry fire flies but I just scooted away from them until I no longer heard them swarming behind me.
Getting around was also a drag. As I mentioned, ION is equipped with a little jet pack that is used to get him to places he cannot simply hover over to. The controls while using the jet pack were very frustrating. The mechanics were too stiff and not as responsive as I felt like they should be. There were times when a full jet boost would easily carry me to a height that I needed to reach, but ION would barely budge in the direction I was prompting him to move to, resulting in him falling straight back down and sustaining fall damage. The clunky jet pack wouldn’t be too big of an issue if it wasn’t a main function of the game. I got to portions where I had to use the jet pack to carry myself and ANI across a chasm. That whole experience was very, very frustrating, and I ended up deciding to walk away from the game at that point.
Phoning Home could have really benefited from an extra bit of polish, and additional play-testing. I can’t see how many people would think that the jet pack aspect of the game is very smooth, and an extra coat of polish could have fixed issues like why when it rains, the water falls (pet peeve!) onto my screen, yet ION is dry as a bone, or how a resource that is essentially a dark, swirling cloud is virtually invisible at night (put some glowy spores in it, or something!).
I realized that I was sticking around Phoning Home for the story, it seems like a really interesting, light-hearted science fiction story, but I just was not having fun playing through it.
VERDICT: Phoning Home’s great voice acting wasn’t enough to save the game from some lackluster gameplay issues. My recommendation is skip it.
PS – A review copy of this game was provided to Epic Brew for the purpose of this review.