The Longest Journey Review
At first glance, one would have hardly expected The Longest Journey to be the great game that it is. After all, Funcom, the game's Norwegian developer, wasn't exactly a household name, and many critics had already written off the entire adventure game genre as dead or at least dying. But Funcom has nonethelesss succeeded, having created what is easily one of the better adventure games of all time.
Even The Longest Journey's main character, April Ryan, seems at first like an unlikely heroine. When the game begins, April has only recently arrived in the futuristic city of Newport after running away from her family in the country. She's a student at the nearby art college, she works at the local cafe, and she lives in a small boarding house with her friends. It might seem that she has a fairly peaceful life.
But April is also having nightmares, and those nightmares start to become real. As she soon learns, the world was once divided into two parts -- Stark, the world of science and order that April knows, and Arcadia, the world of magic of chaos from her dreams. The balance that separates the two worlds is falling apart, and April is a "Shifter" with the rare ability to travel between the worlds. That ability gives her an important role in reshaping the Balance.
One might imagine this sort of tale as the foundation of a lesser game as well, if each of the story's elements had been reduced to stereotypes. Fortunately, The Longest Journey tells a far richer story. April has much to learn about the future of the two worlds and her own future, so the plot stays interesting and suspenseful until the last chapter. Generally speaking, the story is well-paced, although some might find the opening few chapters a bit conversation-heavy.
In addition, both of the worlds are quite detailed themselves. Stark nicely avoids the usual science fiction cliches -- being neither a sterile utopia nor a depressingly dark world. Instead, the main city of Newport is a more logical extension of current large cities, mixing familiar-looking neighborhoods and problems like crime and poverty with futuristic technology and architecture. Arcadia is also an interesting mix of different cultures and races, with something new to see in successive chapters.
There are also dozens of unique and memorable characters in the worlds -- from April's mysterious teacher Cortez; to the talking bird named Crow; to the ambassador from the Venar, who lives in all times at once. And more often than not, there's more to these characters than first meets the eye, so they stay interesting throughout the game. More importantly, the major characters are as real as in any other game in quite a while.
I should, however, issue one word of caution -- The Longest Journey is rated "Mature" by the ESRB for its use of adult language. While the language is certainly appropriate for the situations, this may not be the right game for younger gamers.
Technically speaking, the game is generally first-rate. The background graphics and cut-scenes are impressive, especially for the 640x480 resolution -- I've seen many games with higher resolutions that don't look nearly as good as The Longest Journey. The sound effects, music, and voice acting are all also very good. The 3D characters are a bit blocky and aliased, however -- even when one uses optional 3D hardware acceleration.
The puzzles also tend to be quite fair -- no mazes or similar filler here -- and they usually fit in quite well with the story. There are often clues within the conversations or in descriptions to make sure that you have enough information to solve the puzzles. Some of the earlier puzzles (particularly one involving a certain key) do tend to be a little obscure or out-of-place, though.
While in-game clues are good, The Longest Journey does sometimes go a little too far in forcing you to pick up seemingly unrelated clues before you are allowed to solve a puzzle. At times, you won't even be allowed to look at an item (much less use it) until you learn about it first. You therefore may need to search a scene several times for different hotspots or you can become stuck -- as occasionally happened to me even when I played the game for a second time. As a result, puzzles that should be easy to solve in theory can much be trickier to solve in practice.
The interface is your basic point-and-click graphic adventure interface, but it is still quite a good one. The screen is not cluttered with icons -- there is only a small pop-up menu that appears when you have a choice about what to do with an item, and the bottom of the screen is used for conversation choices. April keeps a diary that gives you some hints, and there's also a full transcript of your conversations in case you forgot something. A quick press of the "X" key will reveal all of a room's exits, so you don't miss any locations. Saved games automatically include a thumbnail screenshot and time stamp, but you can't name or comment the saves.
A few minor problems aside, The Longest Journey provides an involving story, fabulous graphics, and good puzzles all in the same package. It may have taken Funcom nearly a year to find a US publisher, but the game is well worth the wait. Hopefully, we'll be able to look forward to more adventures like this one from Funcom.
-- Jason Strautman