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Written by  :  Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe (1690)
Written on  :  May 29, 2002
Platform  :  Windows
Rating  :  4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars4.33 Stars

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Spread your legs!... AND DO THE MONKEYYYYY!!

The Good

(In order to illustrate critical points, this review contains some spoilers for portions of The Longest Journey. You have been warned.)

The Longest Journey is an innovative approach to a genre that desperately needs a breath of fresh air. It's a story about storytelling itself, and more specifically about the very genre of adventure, with a clever device (April's diary) that allows the game to get away with using most of the old adventure cliches (saving the world, collecting a set of jewels, always running errands for everyone), while simultaneously poking good-natured fun at them.

From an audiovisual standpoint, TLJ is a beautiful piece of software. The story is rich, detailed, and LONG, with many conversations spanning as much twenty or thirty minutes. Opinions on this vary, and it will definitely bore players who hate conversation-driven games (not to mention looking at the same screen for any length of time), but I personally felt the extra time and attention to detail in April's world, and the people she knows, created emotional involvement that paid off big-time in the game's second half. The fantasy landscapes are gorgeous to look at, and give something to take in as you're listening to the characters talking. Also, all the conversation delivers a long play time, without forcing players to spend it all solving puzzles and constantly getting stuck.

As an adventure protagonist, April shines. She's extremely easy to like, funny and friendly, and pleasant to listen to (a absolute must since she carries the bulk of the game's dialogue). Not to mention she's a lot more... how I say?... realistically proportioned than, for instance, Lara Croft.

The game is easy to get running, even on older machines. There are no big system-limitation problems, no 64MB AGP accelerators required, and you have the ability to turn off the fancier features and still be able to enjoy the game. (I definitely recommend doing the full 1GB install, though, if you can afford the space.)

The Bad

(LAST CHANCE to avoid the spoilers!)

The rest of the voice acting is good overall, never stiff, but sometimes the game's situations give the canned responses an awkward feel. For instance, when Emily gets shot and April escapes the clutches of the Vanguard, she doesn't know whether her best friend is dead or alive. It should be a very emotional moment, but have April examine her clothes at this point and she points out how, "ARRRRRR, matey!" she looks like a real sailor. Also you still get the "identical voice" effect from having a small cast playing a large number of characters, to the extent that some of them sound very much alike. (Toward the end, with each new character that was introduced, I was able to easily identify the other voices played by the same actor.)

Some of the puzzles and situations are thoroughly contrived, and this doesn't mesh well at all with a story that tries so hard to be original and serious. Take the police station in Stark, for instance: April manages to get into a restricted area because the electronic doors JUST HAPPEN to be broken that day. Then she's able to bypass the retinal scanner because one of the cops on the force JUST HAPPENS to have an artificial eye. Then she's able to get his password because she finds out it's based on his wife's birthday, and she's able to bring up the subject because it JUST HAPPENS to be the very next day. Yrrrrghhh...

The interface itself is occasionally inconsistent. Sometimes you get all the info you need when you examine something the first time, and sometimes it takes you two looks before you see what's really important. To give an item to a character, sometimes you click the item then click it on them, and sometimes you have to talk to the character and choose the line of dialogue that indicates you have the item. In the case of Crow, you click on HIM, then click him on the object you want to use him with. It wouldn't have been so hard to implement multiple methods of achieving the same end. There are also a couple of Myst-ish puzzles, Ancient Mysterious Objects (TM) that must be manipulated in the right way to accomplish something. I've never enjoyed this sort of puzzle, personally.

Inevitably, as with all adventure games, there are points where you run out of options, get stuck, and resort to the "click everything on everything else" method to find the one thing that works that you somehow missed. And this means not understanding the solution until after you've arrived at it. Case in point: I tied the clothesline to the clamp and attached the inflatable duck with no idea why I was doing it, except that the game was letting me. It's only after I noticed the key in the subway that I suddenly had a use for the previously purposeless contraption I'd constructed.

Worst of all, TLJ still suffers from the adventure gaming "broken record": You can talk to characters as many times as you want, and if you've exhausted all conversational possibilities you'll still continue to get the same "Hi"-"Bye" exchange. If you don't get a timing-related puzzle right on the first try, the game makes the event occur over and over until you do. The biggest offenses here are in the case of Officer Minelli dropping and picking up his synthetic eye before you can grab it, and, even worse, "escaping" the Gribbler in the forest. The Gribbler "attacks" April initially, but never chases her beyond that. She can hide behind the table as long as you let her, and the Gribbler never tries to run around and grab her. Once you realize this, any hope of tension is *POOF*, gone, and the game's urgent music becomes ludicrous. (On the other hand, I do realize that "dying" in an adventure is politically incorrect these days, that people hate "save-and-restore" puzzles. I have yet to see a game that walks this thin line successfully.)

And, once you're completely finished, the game doesn't have much replay value. While the lengthy dialogues weren't hard to sit and listen for me, I currently have no desire to back through any of it, and probably won't for a very long time.

The Bottom Line

Hmm, reading back through the above, it seems to give the impression that I didn't like The Longest Journey. On the contrary, I found it stylish, compelling, and a definite must-play for any adventure fan, though still flawed. Though its story is a solid piece of fiction, I felt it was lacking a few things that would have made a truly great GAME. While certainly the best commercial adventure game in recent years (since Grim Fandango), The Longest Journey still doesn't do much game-wise that's truly innovative, or to revive the fading genre of pure adventure as a whole. But it should give adventure holdouts faith to keep waiting for the next great game (possibly the just-announced sequel), and maybe that one will succeed.