Friday, October 5, 2007

The Longest Journey

Developer: Funcom
Publisher: Funcom
Release: Nov. 16, 2000
System: PC
ESRB Rating: M
Official Web site

Today's Game for Lunch comes from guestblogger Michael Zenke of Slashdot Games and MMOG Nation.

In a nutshell: Monkey Island meets an art house noir movie.

0:01 Oh, yeah, Funcom. My Anarchy Online friends. And 'Lion in the Streets'. The Roaring Twenties!

0:02 Wow. That guy has quite a hat. He's telling a story as a plot device for telling a story inside a game. It's so cliched it's almost original. The story of "the balance," eh? Are you *sure* that's a true story? And what the hell is "the balance?"

0:03 Okay, we don't get to know what the balance is, but we do get to hear backstory of the balance. I guess that's fair? There are many umlauts in the credits, and I'm okay with that.

0:04 There's a digital penis from the naked man speared through by the beam of light flowing into a magical crystal ... how would you convey this in a storytelling fashion? And now there's a seal, unlocking, that looks vaguely like the snake eating it's tail. It's unlocking, and I get the feeling this was foretold, that this was somehow momentous?

0:05 And now we're in a futurescape. A futurescape that was long ago? We're a woman, and we're dreaming. Wow. Check out the beautiful backdrop. It's awfully pixely. Any way I can improve it? .... no. We're pretty much stuck with these visual settings.

0:06 In commenting on the scenery, my character doesn't just say the same thing over and over again, which is much appreciated. And then we knock over an egg. "I bet if I don't do something I'll suffer seven years bad karma." Isn't that a mirror?

0:07 The interface is very intuitive; all I have to do is click on something, and there's an eye for looking and a hand for "interacting." I try to grab a stick off an old tree to help me with the egg, and a guy's face appears in the tree. And starts talking to me. It's all very Treebeard.

0:08 Oh, so if I hook the tree superhero up with water, the tree will help with the egg. Clear as mud. Also, a tree superhero? Whenever an injustice is done to a tree, we are there!

0:11 Ten minutes in, we have hints of a huge battle, and the egg is apparently "the mother's." I choose the acerbic and rude dialogue choices, since I almost never go that route; it's oddly satisfying.

0:13 I stake the twig in the ground, grab a scale from the next, and redirect the flow of water from the nearby stream onto the tree. After I stake the twig, but before I place the scale, my character says, "I have no idea what's going on, but it sure looks like I know what I'm doing." It's incredibly precarious, and a stray breeze will knock down my makeshift shunt ... but the tree doesn't care.

0:14 It's actually kind of satisfying; I like that they very specifically made the first puzzle really easy. Add A to B, and bingo bango you're done. I try to wake the tree back up.

0:15 After getting the tree back on track, the tree picks up the egg and puts it back into the nest. Then there's a gigantic noise, and a flash of light, and there's a dragon. Yikes.

0:16 Why do dragons always have to be so damn cryptic? It greets me as its daughter and says my coming was foretold. Gaah. "You are the mother of the future." There's some very confusing dialogue, and preposition use is extremely suspect.

0:17 My dream is cut short by a gigantic black smokey-demon worm thing.

0:18 Chapter 1: Penumbra. And then I'm awake in a very small apartment. The detail in the room is great. There' s a little utility fan in the corner of the room over the door, and lots of odds and ends the room. Guess I'm living in a city named Newport. There's talk of an exhibition, and work that needs to be done today.

0:19 When I try to get her dressed, she just comments on her wardrobe. Hmm. I do get to pick up the toy monkey. The writing is really good; all of her self-deprecating comments about her stuff gives us insight into her past. It's expository, but not in a bad way.

0:22 After clicking around the room a bunch, I get myself out into the apartment's hallway. She dresses when I try to leave the room. Man she walks slowly. And there's a guy in the hallway. He's kind of a douche. My reaction: He's some sleazebag hanging out in a hallway, calling ladies 'babe'. Giggity giggity. I call him on his assholery.

0:23 I have a hilarious interchange between the character and a terminal in the hallway, in which the terminal tries to upsell me on a voice interface technology; it then gets mad at me for having used the voice interface to find out how to interface with the machine. Really nice.

0:25 There's a hipster lounging on the couch downstairs. There are some matches on the table. I don't know why I'll need matches, but I bet I'll need them.

0:26 There's a picture of a football player on the corkboard, and she says "I'll take a nerd anyday!" Way to pander, Funcom. There's also a note about a lost ring, which my character thinks may be hers.

0:27 Fiona's my landlady, the lounging hipster. I want to ask her about the ring, but instead we chat about Emma (my best friend), Mickey (Fiona's lesbian lover), and my other friend Charlie. I'm fairly beaten over the head by Fiona and Mickey's relationship. They are LESBIANS! DO YOU UNDERSTAND? Fiona has enormous leg-warmered calves, I just noticed.

0:32 I finish my conversation with Fiona with regret. The voice actress behind both characters are really good, and the writing is really well done. I actually do want to hear more about the neighborhood they're in (Venice) and the history of the apartment building. But at this point I'm pressed for time and must push on. My only complaint: my character's voice while looking at stuff in her room and the corkboard was really enthusiastic, but down here with Fiona she sounds really tired.

0:34 I head outside, never having had the chance to ask Fiona about my missing ring. That's disappointing. I searched through all the chat options, but no go. Weird that they'd drop that hint and then not let me follow through with it. Right outside the door there's a bridge to another area and some sort of contraption off in a corner. I take a look at it, and it's obviously going to be a puzzle at some point in the future; there's a missing cable that will allow me to use the control panel ... but not now.

0:35 As I head across the bridge, an old Hispanic man starts jabbering at me. He starts out by commenting on the weather ... and then quickly turns to discussing my nightmares. He obviously knows more than he should, and my character (rightly so) gets freaked out and angry. We stalk off to the next screen. Sloooooowly. My guess is he's from the other world, but she's too angry to find out.

0:38 The next screen is a plaza with a fountain. There's an exit to 'the metro', 'the park', and 'the cafe.' No way to the university, where my studio is. Hmm. I guess I have to take the subway?

0:39 There's a homeless person outside the station, and he's the fattest homeless guy I've ever seen. It's actually a little disconcerting, and I assume he's going to leap up and attack me. Down below in the station, I have to pay my way to get past the turnstile ... but I don't have enough cash. My protagonist wants to get paid at the cafe... I guess I'll head there instead? I have a little trouble fumbling with the inventory interface to try to pay for the fare, but it's fairly self explanatory.

0:41 On the way to the cafe there are several NPCs I can't interact with, and it seems like a waste not to use them for even a throwaway line of dialogue.

0:43 Oh gawds, April walks slowly. Outside of the cafe there is a 'mystery door', which she says she's never seen anyone pass through. "And if I were Nancy Drew, I might care!" Cute. The cafe is closed for maintenance. So, I guess I'm headed to the park? A bit confusing.

0:45 'To the Academy', right across the park. Nice. I could have used a sign somewhere. She walks sooooo slowly. There has to be some way to ...

0:46 The escape button? Why does the escape button make her run? Oh, it's the 'skip' button. It'll let me walk through dialogue trees too. Why wasn't this included in the game as a tutorial element? I had to figure that out. Lots of slow walking as a result.

0:47 Into her studio space, and there's a holographic dragon-thingie in the corner, apparently Emma's work. I grab a brush and palette, and April gets to work.

0:48 Time passes in a cut scene, and Emma shows up. Oh, criminy, is Emma scary. Mostly I don't mind the pixely characters, but she's crazy freaky. She's trying to show boob, which comes off as her having a big block on her chest. She also kinda walks with a gimp. She has a message from Cortez (the guy on the bridge, I guess), and he says he wants to meet me 'Where children visualize their dreams.' Weird.

0:49 Emma's kind of catty and weird. April tries to talk to her about the nightmares, and gets a lot of rudeness in return. Boo. I don't like our best friend, April! We agree to meet for lunch at the cafe. Nice. I can get paid. I really hate the introduction to this character. April is a really sympathetic character, and Emma being a jerk to her makes me immediately dislike her, and question April's taste in friends.

0:51 As we're cleaning up from working, the holosculpture of a flying serpent momentarily comes to life. April manages not to freak because she mostly doesn't see it.

0:53 There are lots more NPCs in the park (as I run through it), but I can't interact with any of them. Meh, again. Let me talk to the scenery! As I head through the plaza with the fountain there are a trio of skaters being hassled by a cop. I'm sure for a second they're going to get shot. Very dystopian.

0:54 The cafe is open, and there are patrons outside. A set of backpackers are nearby, and April comments they should go to the near-earth colonies. I guess we're in space, too.

0:55 I enter the cafe, and it looks so good that for a moment I don't realize it's not CG. The art direction is great in this game, and despite the pixelated nature of the moving characters the game looks terrific. My friend Charlie is behind the bar, and indicates that Cortez was here, and was very interested in the poster by the jukebox. Charlie seems like a really interesting character, and I lament not being able to explore their relationship more fully.

0:56 I press on, talking to Stan the owner about my paycheck. I guess I need a timesheet for him? I don't have one of those. He's a hilarious eastern European stereotype, and again I really love the voice acting in this game.

0:59 The poster by the jukebox is a child's art exhibition. There's a little tear-off ticket with the address; I guess I'll need to use the metro to get there. Once again, I'll need to get paid before I can go.

1:00 I talk to Charlie again; maybe he knows where I can get a time sheet. No luck, and that's all the time I've got to explore. Guess the art exhibit will have to wait.

Would I play this game for more than an hour?
Why? The characters are really interesting, and I wanted to learn more about them. The plot itself, at least at the outset, is a bit 'meh' but I can see how this could develop into something really excellent. Plus, I love serious adventure games -- the Sam and Max games were a lot of fun, but this really hits home with the type of adventure experience I miss from back in the day.


GyRo567 said...

The story picks up in a couple more hours in a big way, and you even get that big explanation you were looking for. (and more questions of course)

James said...

Wow, you got further than I did in the first hour. I think it took me the best part of that time just to exhaust the conversation options with Fiona. And I'm pretty sure I did get the ring from her in that time. Weird that you couldn't. Still, great game.

Anonymous said...

I think you have to pick up the notice about the lost ring, hen give it to her to ask about it.

Stefan said...

After all these years and many a game played, this one has stuck in my brain the longest. I still occasionally think back. The atmosphere is unique, the characters are believable and the story is great. Add a balanced and intuitive gameplay that doesn't get in the way of the storytelling and you have the Greatest Game Ever.
Everyone who likes fantasy/sci-fi stories should play this one. The only fault with this game is that it ends...

Anonymous said...

You can run April's character by double clicking at a point you want her to go to.

Also, a tip: it'd save you more time in the long run, if you explore every dialogue options, pick up every item in every location you've been to, and check every detail of your surroundings for descriptions.

Alright. As a long-time The Longest Journey fan, I wouldn't mind reading another review of the game. So, hope you'd put up a full review of the game after you're done with it. Enjoy!

Anonymous said...

Ditto, the story of the game is fabulous. And if I remember it right you just use double-click to make April run.

Greg said...

If your video card drivers give you the option, I highly recommend cranking the anti-aliasing as far as she'll go. It doesn't affect the backgrounds, but as you noticed it's the characters that are the problem and it really helps them.

Ian said...

There is a special place in my heart dedicated solely to hating this game. There is a puzzle further along in the game involving an inflatable duck that I could not for the life of me figure out -- and I had resolutely refused to consult FAQs up to that point. So I checked it out, and the answer was seriously unintuitive (and time-based, no less). (This puzzle is apparently so commonly frustrating it's the number one question on the official site)

I went back into it, fuming little, and found the 'big reveal' cliched and the dialogue reliably stilted. Maybe I'll play it again, but that damn duck totally killed my suspension of disbelief.

Keep up the cool reviews, though! I'm also curious as to how your interest develops :)

RAE said...

Its my favourite game... I love the story and the humour is great :D

Anonymous said...

It's a game with many layers, great story telling, some of the best voice acting ever, fantastic music, funny humor, some times a bit long, but never dull...

It will haunt you in a good way for the rest of your life. (like the best books and movies)

feather said...

This was my favourite game in the world when I was 14-years-old. I replayed it again the other year and still liked it -- I recommend you do finish it! The story is fantastic, and though the dialogue is among the longest of any adventure game I've played, it's well-written and really well acted.