Phoning Home – Review
Follow Genre: Adventure
Developer: ION LANDS
Publisher: ION LANDS
Platform: PC
Tested on: PC

Phoning Home – Review

Site Score
Good: An engaging story with lovable characters set in a nice atmosphere.
Bad: Quite heavy on hardware
User Score
(3 votes)
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VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)

The iconic phrase of phoning home will be very reminiscent to what many older fans know of E.T., the adorable extraterrestrial. Nonetheless, nowadays when people talk about phoning home it is not always associated with fun events, as you’ll often need something, but from time to time you’ll have some fun news to share as well. In this new game by ION LANDS, a studio based in Berlin, however it is adamant that the devices in question, a couple of robots and their companion spaceships, are able to contact their home planet P1. Prepare yourself for a fun adventure set on a beautiful but eerie world in this crossover between WALL-E and ET.

Phoning Home - Logo


Phoning Home is set on an alien world where ION and his ship crash-landed. Since most parts of the ship are destroyed there is no way to send out a distress signal but luckily the ship’s AI, conveniently named EU_18TR289x65, survived and is able to get ION on his way. ION is a little exploration robot that is tasked to find and secure natural resources and bring them back to his home world P1. This world is completely built and inhabited by robots, most of whom (including ION’s ship) don’t hold a high opinion on living and breathing creatures who they refer to as Oxies.

After getting the first things in order, ION sets out on the planet in search for help and encounters another unit that crash-landed called ANI and her spaceship which she lovingly refers to as Sister. EU_18TR289x65 is quite upset about the breach of protocol both by referring to ANI as feminine and her not calling her ship by her designated tag. ANI is not a real exploration unit and thus is not protected to the harsh environment of a planet with atmosphere. It is therefore up to ION to not only find a way off the planet but also to protect ANI while doing so.

Even though the story feels a bit like it has been done before in other titles, it never becomes bothersome as everything is presented in a nice way, never really interrupting the flow of the game. You get the basic information from the dialog between the different characters but if you want to know more you can always have a look in the library where some more expanded information is available.

Phoning Home - Screen 2


The game is built using the Unity engine which, as we know, can produce beautiful and complex sceneries. You are dropped in a world which is seemingly endless and drawn in nice detail. Both ION and ANI are very nicely animated as they wander around the vast lands. Phoning Home truly gives you the feeling that you are playing in an open world and it never seems like you are inhibited by drawing distance.

You play the game from a third person point of view which you can zoom in and out within limits. As you progress there is also a day and night cycle which even includes natural events such as rain- and sandstorms. When it is raining you can see raindrops forming on and gliding off your camera while sandstorms completely blind your vision further than a few meters. All this beauty of course means that you do need a decent graphics card to play this game and our gaming system was producing quite some extra fan noise.

Phoning Home - Screen 4


After turning up the volume to eliminate the noise from our graphics card we could hear a beautiful soundtrack being played. The music adds to the atmosphere of loneliness by mostly being a bit bubbly in the background but as you approach an enemy or a dangerous situation it seamlessly increases in intensity.

While ION is completely silent since his voice module is broken, all the other characters in the game do have a voice and all their dialogues are completely spoken by voice actors. The dry, robotic voice of EU_18TR289x65 bickering with the warm voice of Sister complement the incessantly banter by the slightly mad unit ANI, drawing you completely into the game’s story and making you develop some real empathy for the little robots.

Phoning Home - Screen 6


Phoning home is an open world adventure game and although the other characters tend to steer you in the right direction, you are free to roam around and complete objectives on your own pace. But of course you want to help ION with his goal to get not only himself but also ANI and their ships to safety and back to their home world. You control ION using the classical WASD keys combined with your mouse for turning. If you hold your right mouse button you are able to freely look around while the left button is reserved for attacks. When you can interact with something a prompt pops up telling you so, or if necessary what supplies you need to be able to do so. There is an inventory with items you have procured and a library to read back goals you received as well as related information.

For the first part of the game you are alone while the AI explains you how to move around the world and interact with objects. You need to gather resources not only to maintain but also upgrade yourself and to repair things like communication arrays that were left behind on the planet by an old civilization. At first you need to discover a new resource yourself by bumping into it and trying to scan it, but after it is scanned the compass on your HUD will show the direction of all nearby resources of the same type. While initially quite simple the objects do become more complex to build and sometimes even require you to build multiple other objects as a resource before you can construct your final part. Even though resources are scarce there are always enough around to progress in the story, provided that you pay enough attention.

Phoning Home - Screen 1

After a while EU_18TR289x65 detects the signal of Sister and you are sent on a mission to rescue ANI. From that point on it is best to keep her around as she can provide valuable help. She however is not equipped with a rocket booster like ION so sometimes you need to use the ‘Attractor’ to carry her onto heights or jump over chasms. Another tool to help you is the portal creator which can only be used between two different metal objects.

Sometimes you come across unbeatable threats and you need to navigate your way around them. Other times you can engage them yourself or let ANI do the killing for you. You can order her to go into a combative or passive mode and to follow you or not. While ION is equipped for the environment, ANI is not and she is subject to corrosion. ION has to prevent this by building shields for her and repairing her. Especially during a sandstorm she will get damaged badly and it is best to find shelter for her.

The world where ION and ANI dwell in is vast and to get around, energy and fuel is consumed, which you will also need to replenish. While you can increase the speed a bit by going into running mode, this consumes even more energy thus in some areas it is best used sparingly. Sometimes it is frustrating to discover that the big desert you just crossed needs to be crossed again as it can take quite some time. All in all this adds to the experience though and gives you time to listen to some more of ANI’s banter.

Phoning Home - Screen 5


We think that with this tile ION LANDS has a real nice game on their hands and you can see that they clearly put a lot of effort into it, not only in the gameplay department but also by making this game a true delight in the visual department. Overall we don’t really mind the similarities with other titles since the storyline and characters had drawn us in from the very beginning in this beautiful tale of exploration. If you’re fond of an open world adventure, this one is certainly worth looking into, even if it’s only to see how the story ends for ION and ANI.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (3 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
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Phoning Home - Review, 10.0 out of 10 based on 3 ratings

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