Phoning Home is an open world survival title focusing on the story of ION, a small robot lost on a unexplored planet along with its mother-ship, “TR2”.
The main thrust of the game is your crash landing on a strange, physics defying world, and your subsequent escape. This mostly consists of going where you are told by your mother ship or crafting some new piece of equipment. You must travel around the planet, using new abilities to access new areas (but no metroidvania styles backtracking) while collecting equipment to escape the planet.
In each area of this world, resources are scattered around. As you progress throughout new areas, you discover more types of resources to be collected. You have a limited inventory space for each item, but that can be upgraded by crafting an upgrade. New items which are required to continue are also crafted from resources, which means you may sometimes need to rush back to an earlier area to collect those required resources.
There are three items which you must keep a steady supply of, those being fuel for your engine, energy for your computers and repair kits to fix any damage you may encounter. These require non-renewable resources, forcing you to rush through the game, lest you use up your resources staying alive to then run out later trying to build your next tool. This is my biggest criticism of this gamer, the dichotomy between the exploration portion of this game, which would suggest you, well explore this world to collect resources, and the survival mechanic which makes you rush and not explore or enjoy the scenery of this varied and visually attractive landscape.
And it is an attractive world! Phoning Home has that semi-realistic, high-end, Unity art-style which actually works well with the rest of the game, the ‘impossible’ world you are exploring feels like it should look like this, real but not.
Phoning Home bills itself as an open-world game with a story, which confused me. In my experience, games either give the player a high degree of freedom and a light story, ala Just cause or restrict the player to specific actions and areas when interacting with the story, as in the GTA series. Phoning Home tries to not do either of these strategies, which does not work out in its favor. Early on in the game, while I was still exploring the first area and getting a constant stream of explanations for everything I was looking at, I was attacked by some large swarm of orange looking things which quite quickly killed me. With no idea what attacked me or how to defend against it, I reloaded and next time I passed through that area I kept well away from where I was attacked and continued on.
Much later on I learnt that the way to kill these things was to shoot at it with a weapon unlocked later on in the game, meaning there was no way to defend against this enemy earlier on. There are a few other examples of this but this was my biggest experience of the story and the open world nature of the game conflicting. There is a slight climate change moral in the game but it feels forced and crow-barred in, with no link between how the player feels and what the characters feelings are.
Phoning Home is an interesting game, with both the story and the game world inviting and interesting to me. I particularly enjoyed the story and would enjoy a game with this story taking a more central place in the design.