The long-standing tradition of adventure gaming on the computer platform has died down over time. While players once flocked to software retailers to gobble up copies of Zork and Mystery House for their Apple II computers, the scene has since shifted considerably with the modern market (late '90s, early 21st century) focusing on non-stop action rather than long, drawn-out storytelling.
Whether a symptom of modern society's decreased attention span or just the expanding software market in general, the facts are undeniable. Adventure games like The Longest Journey rarely see the light of day in the pulse-pounding, frantic pace of the mainstream gaming world, an unfortunate occurrence in the market as of this writing.
The Longest Journey is unquestionably a unique adventuring experience. The opening menu of the game has the appearance of children's crayon scribble drawings and, once a new game is started, the perspective immediately shifts to a log cabin with an old woman inside, relaying stories of her childhood to two adolescents paying rapt attention.
After several minutes of dialogue, the introductory movie finally kicks in and inundates the gamer with a series of intentionally confusing and vague images. Incidentally, dialogue, movement and most everything in the game can be skipped over by hitting the "escape" key but, if you want to skip over dialogue all the time, this may not be the game for you.
Following the introductory movie, suddenly and without warning you're placed in control of a young woman wearing nothing but underwear (a fact about which she constantly reminds you) on a cliff-face overlooking a magnificently beautiful valley. The controls prove reasonably standard for the genre with left-clicks moving your character to the location you select and right-clicks opening up an interaction menu whenever the cursor starts flashing.
Even this early in the proceedings, some design flaws make themselves readily apparent. Unless you have "subtitles" turned on, the character's dramatic and comedic pauses in speech can easily make you miss details about objects; all too often, before these timed breaks in her speech are over, you are likely to have clicked on something else. Also, the game immediately initiates her spoken dialogue whenever you click on something on-screen even if she is already talking about it. Thus, it's easy (and rather annoying) to double-click on an item or person and have her voice attack your senses in surround-sound.
Aside from those minor annoyances, however, the game remains remarkably solid. The backgrounds are universally gorgeous with vibrant colors, incredible attention to detail and countless nonessential aspects of the game world to examine and explore. The polygon characters, though, are slightly more rough around the edges overall but their movements are extremely lifelike and even character-specific. As such, only the main character is likely to wring her hands together and look embarrassed while only the Mysterious Spanish Guy will open his arms in a flourish, unlike many other games where character movements are generic and universal.
Another area in which The Longest Journey shines is sound (aside from the minor problems already mentioned). The voice acting is almost universally outstanding with only a few minor comic relief characters sounding even the least bit inappropriate or derivative of other obvious characters -- it does seem as if your character is talking to Forrest Gump and Columbo outside one particular movie theatre. In addition to the superb voice acting, the game's sound effects, while often subdued, are nonetheless effective in creating atmosphere. The ambient music, often created by an actual item in the game world, is also top-notch.
Obviously, as an adventure game, The Longest Journey is a bit more complicated than just being a mass of graphics and sound. The puzzles are of a rare variety, often completely logical, yet not always simple to solve. There are only a few occasions in the game when using a walkthrough might be necessary due to the bizarre nature of a puzzle and, for an adventure game, that is quite good.
Based on the foregoing, it might seem that almost any adventure game fan could appreciate this game. Unfortunately, that is not the case as, throughout the game, the sheer volume of dialogue is all but overwhelming. Even in the game's first chapter, some dialogue sequences can take upwards of 15 or 20 minutes to exhaust all possible conversation selections. Admittedly, not all of the dialogue is necessary for advancement, but it is often hard to know what exactly you might need to know from any specific person.
As an example of the verbose nature of the game, one conversation (in which you have no input) is so long that you could go to the kitchen, boil some water, make a batch of spaghetti, return and eat it -- all before the discussion topic is finished. Make no mistake, this sequence is personal experience, not hyperbole, so it is safe to say that if you're not really into long, deep games, you might easily be turned off by this title. Adventure games frequently have a large amount of conversation but rarely has any game even approached the sheer scope of dialogue present in The Longest Journey.
The rewards for wading through all the dialogue, however, are great. The movies and other cut-scenes are performed with the same kind of exquisite detail seen in all the other aspects of the game and always interesting enough to watch again (using the movie-replay function of the main menu). Also, almost every character in the game is solidly interesting in and of itself, making the endless dialogue not only bearable but also often intriguing. Even minor characters come alive in the game in a way usually reserved only for main characters in other games.
The Longest Journey is definitely not the kind of game everyone will appreciate and, in fact, may be unplayable after five minutes for some gamers. However, for anyone willing to give it half a chance, the game can provide the same kind of enthralling entertainment as the most meticulously crafted mystery novel or film, perhaps even rekindling a lost sense of wonder in the way reality really works.
Graphics: From the magnificent canyon skies of the game's first chapter to the intentionally depressing futuristic cityscape of the game's second chapter as well as the bizarre pseudo-dreamscapes of other parts of the game, The Longest Journey never ceases to dazzle the senses with its varied graphical design.
Sound: Throughout the game, the sound effects keep pace with the excellent graphics. Subtle, whispered dialogue slides effortlessly alongside shouted diatribes, soothing whirs and beeps accompany many actions and game functions and the music is often quite excellent. If not for a few easily remedied sound design aspects of the engine, the rating would be even higher.
Enjoyment: The enjoyment factor suffers slightly due to the narrow audience at which the game is aimed. While it would be nice if everyone in the world had the attention span necessary to take in all of the game's dialogue, even patient gamers might want the talking to give way to action once in a while.
Replay Value: With any game this chock-full of detail, the replay value is higher than it might be otherwise just from a sheer plot perspective. Admittedly, as with any adventure game, the sheer linearity of things is a problem, though The Longest Journey does take steps to limit this aspect, thus allowing an easier and more enjoyable, replay.
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