Review: The Long Journey Home12 Jun 2017 3
Review: The Long Journey Home
Released 30 Jun 2017
The Long Journey Home is a beautiful game. Featuring a level of polish indie titles are simply not known for, Daedelic’s strategy adventure game brings space to life in all it’s majestic and unforgiving lethality. Starting as a mission to Alpha Centauri that goes horribly wrong, The Long Journey Home sees four astronauts and their starship go wildly off course upon activation of an experimental drive and catapulted thousands of light years away from Earth. Stranded on a mysterious random corner of the Milky Way, you must guide your forlorn crew through vast regions of uncharted space, and hopefully get home in one piece.
A brutal game, The Long Journey Home tasks you with acquiring and managing resources to maintain your ship as you make your way to Earth. Taking place from a top-down 3D perspective, you must carefully turn your ship and fire thrusters while slingshooting across gravitational fields to conserve fuel, all with the goal of reaching a planet or station before jumping to the next star system on your journey home.
As you maneuver the space vessel around gravity wells and navigate star systems, your ship uses up fuel and suffers wear and tear, necessitating constant maintenance and expenditure of materials. There is no arbitrary time factor limiting player choices -- one can go anywhere, as long as they have the ability to take them there. In order to keep their ship in top shape and actually make the long journey home, players must place their ships in orbit around planetary bodies and send down an atmospheric lander, armed with a drill and capable of limited aerial flight, to gather resources.
The lander gameplay is strongly inspired by that oldie Lunar Lander, where you must carefully guide a ship through a 2D environment while battling the uninterrupted pull of gravity. Hard materials, such as iron or copper metals, require the player to land on a spot and drill the surface, while softer necessities like hydrogen or helium demand one to constantly keep the craft above a spewing geyser and activate the drill to capture the gases.
Each planet has a different climate, rendering the already challenging task much more complex. Besides gravitational differences that affect the way the lander behaves, some scenarios present environmental hazards. The worst one I encountered was a high gravity, high temperature planet: upon insertion into the atmosphere, my lander continuously suffered heat damage and was forcefully drawn towards the igneous rock surface engulfed by flowing lava. Quickly maneuvering as the craft hit mountains and skimmed lakes of molten rock, I quickly gathered the gases I needed before hastily firing the engine and escaping that hellish landscape. It was exciting, but extremely dangerous.
Somewhat unforgiving and a tad unbalanced, The Long Journey Home is an interesting mix of strategy and adventure in their purest senses. While the unique journey and story is typical of an adventure game, the meticulous logistical awareness is reminiscent of a survival title. This is a proper strategy game, in the logistical sense: bad use of resources or wrong decisions *will* get you killed, necessitating thinking and planning in order to succeed. The game has three difficulties levels, and the thankfully included Story Mode allows a sizeable degree of human error while still being extremely demanding. My initial playthrough lasted about 90 minutes before I had to save and go do something else; the stress of learning the game while constantly maneuvering the ship and lander was surprisingly draining.
However, the game is uncompromisingly enjoyable. Its gameplay is engaging and fun while the title’s tone never dips into one of dread despite the circumstances, always keeping a fairly neutral stance and letting its great writing carry the weight. Characters have interesting backgrounds and well developed personalities and reactions, lending an additional layer of depth to the RPG like dialogue trees and interactions. Several alien races may cross paths with the player, generating a myriad of scenarios that lead to great emergent gameplay moments.
Beautiful graphics ally with a breathtaking musical score to present a uniquely charmful view of outer space. The original soundtrack sublimely evokes the atmosphere the game’s actions require, be it the ominous bass of a dangerous and unknown star system, or the joyful excitement of peaceful exploration. Gravity wells bend and twist the virtual representation of the underlying fabric of spacetime, while the screen glitches and fritz in the proximity of a massive gravitational anomaly like a black hole. Accidentally flying your ship into a planet shakes the screen whiles the ship crew tries to skim it off the planet’s atmosphere safely, while inadvertently flying it into a sun a major visual feedback, with the screen getting severely distorted and all sensor data completely disappearing as you anxiously watch to see if your crew manages to circumvent the star’s corona. It is artistically done, and it left me absolutely astonished and utterly impressed.
My sole gripe with the game is the seemingly lack of balance toward being difficult. The lander is notoriously unsatisfactory to control and extremely prone to fumbling, to the point of unfairness. For some reason, every time you deploy to a planet with a normal or above gravitational pull, the lander comes in so hot that all but guarantee you are smashing against the surface. Even turning it and burning at full speed proves insufficient at stopping a collision, effectively ruining the experience by cheating and essentially mining the whole concept of its gameplay. It’s cheap, and the whole game is frankly above it.
But in the end, The Long Journey Home is a thoroughly fantastic experience. With a complex gameplay, a unique premise, and a extraordinary sublime presentation, this indie title raises the whole genre to a new bar of excellence. The game has a gigantic amount of character, making even the toughest of situations quite tolerable, and its flaws are small or easily fixable. The player is trusted with both agency and judgement, choosing a crew and ship at the moment the game starts and never losing control of its fate through plot reasons. Thanks to that and its procedurally generated galaxy, The Long Journey Home has a significant replay value, and is a must have in everyone’s library.