The Longest Journey

4 November 2001

Copyright © 2001 Balmoral Software ( Portions copyright © 2000 Funcom. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Balmoral Software.

The Longest Journey is just that, an extremely long adventure game that is a journey through a fascinating variety of experiences and environments. It is a huge, ultimately overwhelming game that will provide 50 to 100 or more hours of gameplay.

In The Longest Journey, you control the main character, April Ryan, as she travels back and forth between the game's two environments: Stark, a futuristic, polluted cityscape, and Arcadia, a bucolic and magical alternative universe. The long, complicated plot of The Longest Journey might have been more engrossing had it not been so complex. It tends to be overloaded with backstory, mostly presented through a very talky script. There are a few standalone logic puzzles, and these offered a pretty good challenge without being too obscure. In fact, we might have enjoyed the game more if additional puzzles had been included, but The Longest Journey is really a story-based experience with the puzzles incidental to the main plot lines. Most of the tasks in the game involve inventory hunts, pixel-searching and exploration, with most clues coming from dialog. There are a small number of timed sequences, but these were not difficult to complete. Some sections of the game may be a bit gross for some players, and there definitely is a language problem with one character in particular. Consequently, the game has a Mature (17+) rating.

Organized into 13 chapters, the game is linear and offers few optional activities or alternative ways of completing tasks. As a result, all but the most minimal CD swapping is necessary as the game progresses. On occasion, the linear plot requires an activity to be completed before something completely unrelated happens somewhere else. Thankfully, these situations occur relatively rarely, but may cause a fair amount of backtracking in the game. To avoid this, we sometimes found ourselves falling back to a basic strategy of talking to everyone (exhausting all of the interminable dialog choices), trying all inventory items on each hotspot, and when all else failed, contacting April's sidekick (which shows up in Chapter 4). Fortunately, the game includes keyboard shortcuts and highlighted icons that make inventory manipulation much more effective. Some one-way doors exist in the gameplay logic, but these actually simplify gameplay by avoiding repetition. There were no dead ends encountered in the game and no way your main character can be killed, so there is little reason to resort to the artifice of restoring a saved game to get around a problem in the game.

The game has beautifully-rendered, detailed backgrounds that really set an other-worldly atmosphere. Gameplay views are static, without 3D panning or VR, and the entire game is played from a third-person perspective except for a few puzzle close-ups. No transition videos are shown when changing scenes. There are a few ambient graphics, and the occasional use of different camera angles make some of the views more interesting. A large graphics viewport occupies most of the screen, with areas reserved at the top and bottom for dialog choices and a menu bar. Unfortunately, the game characters are blocky, pointy cyberpuppets superimposed on these backgrounds. Many of the video cutscenes involved close-ups of these puppets, which made them look worse. For some reason, April always seems to look fearful in close-ups, and the "midriff monotony" of her painted-on clothing became something of a running joke. Cartoon figures, such as were used in the Broken Sword series, might have been more believable, but this form of character animation may not have been a viable option in a game as large as The Longest Journey.

The game's interface and navigation is standard point-and-click, with useful keyboard controls also included. Hotspots are indicated by highlighted text, but a fair amount of pixel-hunting is required even with a "smart" cursor. An inventory control menu is serviceable. Although April's motion can be accelerated by double-clicking or using the Escape key, her movements are often still very slow since many intermediate screens must be traversed in order to reach an objective. As gameplay progressed, we began to think of this as the "April jogging game". Even a shortest-path solution to the game will involve much retracing of steps. A direct-navigation map would have made the gameplay less repetitive. As the gameplay proceeds, you must pay attention to lots of details, many of them in the dialog sequences. On the plus side, the game includes useful diary and video replay features that make managing this information a little easier. Saved-game slots are limited to 99, which may not be enough in such a long game. A saved game cannot be named, but it includes an accurate thumbnail of the current game view, as well as a timestamp.

Should this game be called The Talkiest Journey? Perhaps that's too strong, but it seems that some of the drama of the game is lost when buried under so much dialog. There is an attempt to inject humor from April's sidekick, but most of it seemed strained. However, the music and sound effects in the game are just right - low-key, non-obtrusive, and not unpleasant or obviously repetitive. No bugs were encountered in the game, except for frequent problems with skipping sound. Although these are annoying, they did not materially detract from gameplay. The game manual is very complete and covers some of the backstory as well as all details of the navigation interface.


Copyright © 2001 Balmoral Software ( Portions copyright © 2000 Funcom. All rights reserved. Republication or redistribution is expressly prohibited without the prior written consent of Balmoral Software.