The Longest Journey has been the top selling adventure game in Europe for sometime, but only recently has started to make inroads in the United States. I can tell you this right off the bat: you will not find a better looking game anywhere.
Adventure games have gotten a bit of a bad rap lately, but not so much because people do not like them as much as folks have just sort of lost interest in them. Back about five or 10 years ago they were all the rage, but now seem encompassed by shooters and real-time strategy games. The Longest Journey could revitalize interest in the adventure game genre. It’s that good.
Players take on the role of April Ryan, a teenage girl in the far future who is off to college for the first time. She has all the typical problems and concerns of a normal 18-year-old: a bad boss and a stupid job, a small apartment with no air condition and a stupid guy that hits on her. Well, she is a certifiable babe, so I guess that last one tends to happen.
April also has a unique concern. She is what is known as a shifter, and can travel between worlds. There are two worlds in April’s universe, the futuristic Bladerunner-like reality that she resides in and a fantasy world that is based on magic. People in one world have no idea for the most part that the other exists.
April at first can only travel over to the magic world during her dreams, a time when she really has no control of her destination. In fact, the opening sequence of the game is her in a dream, solving a puzzle of sorts in the fantasy world. She is distressed by the fact that she is in her underwear. Sorry, but if I kept sliding each time I went to bed, I would sleep in full combat gear with my Mini-14 nestled comfortably beside be. Oh well, lets just go with this. Once she solves the problems there, she falls off a cliff and returns to reality.
The duality of the game is one of the things that makes it a lot of fun. Just when you are getting used to the magic world – which April eventually begins to visit while awake – she returns back to the science realm. Puzzles in the science realm mostly involve scientific solutions like hacking computers, tricking retinal scanners and getting past laser fences while puzzles in the magic realm are more along the lines of playing a flute to distract an angry god and winning a talking bird from a vendor at the carnival. It’s almost like getting two games in one.
The puzzles themselves are of medium difficulty. Some are really difficult like trying to fish a key off the third rail (the hot one) of a subway using two Band-Aids, an inflatable rubber duck, a set of twine and a clamp. Some are easy like diverting the path of a stream using a dragon scale. Most fall into the "if you have found the right tool, then the solution is not difficult" category. In other words, expect a challenge but not one that will have you beating your head against the wall like the ridiculously difficult ones found in Riven.
The overall plot of the game is that the science and magic worlds were once one, but were split because humans used magic and science together and their creations threatened to destroy the universe. So the world was split thousands of years ago into the magic realm, called Arcadia, and the Science realm, called Stark. One day the worlds will be joined again, but there is an evil group that wants this to happen right away. This evil group has amassed a ton of power in both worlds, forming a powerful technological church in Stark and taking up council positions in Arcadia. They want the worlds joined so they can return to the power they had in the old days when the worlds were one.
Throughout the game the magic world starts to seep into the science one, with sometimes disastrous but mostly comical consequences. Still, April is told by a mysterious tutor that if the worlds join now, that both will be destroyed. So it is up to her to stop the transformation.
The game is beautiful whether in the lush greenery and odd architecture of Arcadia or the mean streets and technological wizardry of Stark. You will find yourself often just sitting there with your mouth open gazing at the beautiful scenery. Not since LucasArt’s The Dig have I been sucked into a game by pure beauty alone. The soundtrack also does a nice job of capturing the mood, with a modern techno sound in Stark and medieval melodies in Arcadia.
Gameplay encourages exploration too. April can’t be killed, though you would not necessarily know this unless you pour through the documentation. Since there is no threat of death, you can explore at a more relaxed pace. This is nice, and the game nonetheless uses the threat of harm or punishment to advance the plot. Don’t worry about there not being tension, but you can sit back a bit at know that you won’t be killed, and talk with other characters about non-game related issues if you want.
This is also a bit of a negative. There are conversations in the game, which are very well done with full actor voices, which nonetheless take over 20 minutes. In one sequence I actually got so bored I went to have a snack. I came back and the guy who was talking with April was still going. Come on guys, we get these games to play them, not watch movies on our computers.
In some respects the game seems aimed more at women than men. The innermost thoughts of April at times seem a bit too much. My guess is that women will appreciate this side of the game more than I did. The title itself, "The Longest Journey," actually refers to the journey within your soul to find courage or some such nonsense that I never really paid much attention to. I think this was revealed during the aforementioned 20 minute conversation when I went out for a snack. But hey, walking April around in her underwear was cool enough for me.
Another negative point, from a purely technical standpoint, is that I never got the diary to work properly. For some reason, whenever I opened the diary, my screen started flashing and the game locked up. We have advanced PCs in the testing area that should have had no problem with this game, in this case a Pentium III with a Voodoo 3 card. We looked for a patch but never found one. Thankfully, you can solve the game without reading the diary. The diary just recaps what you have already heard.
All these faults are easily forgiven when you look at the high points. This is an excellent game. If you like adventure games, or just think you might like to try one out, this is a great option. I’ve never seen animation this good running this smoothly (other than the diary). You really get to know April, and you really want her to complete her quest. In this respect it’s more like a role-playing game of sorts.
This is hands down the best adventure game currently on the market. It overcomes its minor flaws with a sheer beauty that simply can’t be matched. It earns a near-perfect 4 1/2 GiN Gem score, and will have you spending many long nights with April (in her underwear sometimes as a bonus) working your way though the 4 CD-ROMs that contain the game.