Phoning Home by developer Ion Lands isn’t exactly subtle in where it draws its inspiration from. Its title and general plot idea come straight from E.T, its protagonist looks a little like a cross between Wall-E and Johnny Five. If you weren’t around in the eighties or early nineties, google ‘Short Circuit’ to see what I mean.
Your main objective in Phoning Home is to repair your spacecraft, which got damaged when you crashed on a strange planet. To do this, you’ll have to explore and find parts, salvaging and crafting as you try and stay out of harm’s way. And while trying to “phone home” is usually someone else’s gig, this time you play a robot called Ion.
Gameplay in Phoning Home is somewhat story-driven, but only very loosely so. Exploration of an open world environment is the main gameplay dynamic here, and you have a lot of freedom in terms of how you approach your overall goal. You can focus strictly on repairing your craft, but you also have the option to boost your own abilities by upgrading Ion in various ways. This generally makes traversing the world easier, or makes you more resistant to the enemies you encounter later on.
Aside from exploration and trying to make your way back home, Phone Home also unfolds a bit of a mystery for you. As you travel all over the place, you learn more and more about the planet you’re on and the origin of some of the materials you find – which feels like a big interesting side quest at first but becomes more important as you progress.
The audiovisual delivery in Phoning Home is a bit of a paradox. On the one hand, the game world, its inhabitants and Ion himself all look exceptionally well designed – especially for a title from a smaller studio. There are still a few technical problems though, some of them as major as falling through the game world instead of landing on solid ground. The team at Ion Lands has been hard at work patching the game since its release though, as at least three updates have been released already.
Those problems definitely take away from the experience that Phoning Home could have been, so I would recommend keeping a close check on the update history on Steam. Once they’re fixed though, this will become a fun exploration title for those with an affinity for the genre and a fondness for the characters that this game draws inspiration from.