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Phoning Home Reviewed by Cyril Lachel on . If you're able to look beyond some baffling technical issues and are willing to save frequently, you'll find an incredible adventure with two of the best new characters of the year. The alien world they explore is full of surprises and the mystery is genuinely intriguing, especially as you learn more about the people who used to inhabit the planet. Phoning Home is only a patch or two away from being a game I truly love. Rating: 71%
Phoning Home
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  • Review Score:

  • B
If you had asked me what I thought of Phoning Home in the first three or four hours, I would have told you that it was a frontrunner for my favorite game of 2017. It's gorgeous, emotional and full of wondrous discoveries. It has a mystery I genuinely wanted to solve and a pair of robots I instantly fell in love with. But things change and moods sour, and I find myself wishing I could go back to the joy I had in those first few hours.

In some ways it's easy to see why I would fall in love with Phoning Home. This is a science fiction survival adventure that is Wall-E meets The Martian. You play a mute robot named ION who crash lands on a mysterious alien planet and is forced to survive against the elements. He is desperate to find a way to send a distress signal and get off this soggy planet. Along the way he stumbles across another robot, a "female" character named ANI. The two quickly realize that they must work together if they have any chance of being rescued.


The relationship between these two robots is easily the best part of Phoning Home. Although ION can't talk, there's a surprising amount of dialog. ANI is a timid character, one who feels bad that she's always in need of help. But that doesn't stop her from rambling on about how excited she is to be on an actual adventure. On top of that, both ION and ANI have their own talking computers, each with unique personalities.

In order to survive, the two robots will need to gather up supplies and craft everything from fuel to minor repairs. As somebody who isn't a big fan of crafting in adventure games, I worried that this would get too bogged down in the details. But it didn't bother me in Phoning Home, thanks in large part to the limited roster of items. Even with the upgrades and special abilities, there are only a few things the player can craft, so finding the right ingredients becomes second nature in an hour or two.

Part of the reason why the crafting didn't bother me is because there's a real story with missions and structure, so it doesn't feel as aimless as many survival games. Phoning Home is good about constantly sending you here and there, always in an effort to improve your chances of getting off this rock. This a proper adventure, and we learn a lot about the planet as we visit its many landmarks. What we find along the way is both compelling and thought-provoking, making this a real science fiction treat.

Unfortunately, everything started to fall apart the moment ventured away from the lush forests and into the desert. This is a massive area where we're asked to fix a trio of communication towers in order to boost our distress signal. What sounds like a straight-forward mission turned into my wandering the punishing terrain for more than four hours, unable to make any progress in the story. It got to the point where even the guide on my compass disappeared, leaving me stuck on a giant planet without direction.

Phoning Home (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

As it turns out, this happened several times while attempting to make it through Phoning Home. If you accidentally skip a step or don't have ANI in the right spot, the game will seemingly get confused and prevent you from advancing the story. The only solution I could find was starting over from the very beginning or hoping you have a save that isn't screwed up. This resulted in me keeping dozens of different saves, that way I would never have to start over again.

As frustrating as it was to see the helpful arrow disappear, at least that was a sign that something was seriously wrong. There were a number of times where the guide would point me to a far off location I couldn't get to. Or it would send me to a dead end. This problem is compounded by the fact that you don't have a map, so it's not always clear where you're supposed to be going. You can spend all day searching the forest when you actually need to be in the snowy part of the planet. It sometimes feels like the helpful arrow has a mind of its own.

It's also important to save because you'll occasionally get stuck in situations where you run out of crafting minerals. While the game is usually good about scattering enough materials around each area, there were times when I ran out of fuel or health items while out in the middle of nowhere. In fact, this happened a few times. Having enough items is often a tricky balance in this type of game, and Phoning Home occasionally falls short.

I find this frustrating, and not simply because it's easy to lose an hour of progress due to stupid mistakes and bugs. It's frustrating because, up until that point, this was an incredible experience that I couldn't stop raving about. I was sucked into the emotional story and genuinely cared about the plight of these two robots. I loved the one-sided conversations they had and was fascinated by all of the new information. I was blown away by the scope of the ambitious world and even got into crafting. It all worked on me ... until it didn't.

Phoning Home (Steam)Click For the Full Picture Archive

If this were a less compelling game, I likely would have simply given up after the first few issues. But because I connected with these characters and loved the world they were exploring, I found myself restarting the game from scratch and using earlier saves. I went through the same sections multiple times in order to make sure I got the story bits and didn't miss anything. I did this because I like everything else about this game and didn't want a few bugs to get in the way.

If you're able to look beyond some baffling technical issues and are willing to save frequently, you'll find an incredible adventure with two of the best new characters of the year. The alien world they explore is full of surprises and the mystery is genuinely intriguing, especially as you learn more about the people who used to inhabit the planet. Phoning Home is only a patch or two away from being a game I truly love.
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