My journey with April
Originally published in June 2001.
Historical note: By this point in history, the adventure game was on the way out, but this was one of the last great ones.
Name: The Longest Journey
Developer: Funcom 2000
Publisher: Funcom 2000
Requires: Required - Windows 95 or better, 166 MHz Pentium, 32MB RAM, CD-ROM drive, SVGA Video. Recommended - Pentium II 266MHz, 3D Accelerator Video Card, and 64MB RAM.
Retail Price: $45.99
Street Price: $34.99
Historically speaking, the adventure game genre is often designated a classical form of computer game. Like classical music, adventure games have a long history of familiar titles that influence and permeate all current artistic and commercial endeavors in the industry. Adventure games are this industry’s foundation, the common heritage that give all computer games their lease on life. They are the seed from which this now prominent form of entertainment has sprung.
However, similar to its classical music cousin, the adventure game, especially in recent years, is not among the “popular” computer game genres. Spicier and trendier games in the form of the first-person-shooter or real-time-strategy genres have been making the headlines and dominating the attention of most computer gamers. So it was with great excitement and anticipation that I decided to play and review The Longest Journey from Funcom 2000. Just about every trade publication in the gaming industry has praised this adventure game for its excellence and I could not agree with them more wholeheartedly.
So it begins
One of the main features that separate the adventure game genre from many other computer game genres is the plot – adventure games have one, or at least should have one. The Longest Journey reads like a good fantasy-science fiction novel with plot elements that include dreams, magic, time travel, and dimensional shifts. The player experiences the plot through the story’s protagonist, April Ryan. April is a young art student with a troubled past and an uncertain future. She is also precocious, witty, and above-all, smart. It is so nice to play a smart character for a change; one that does not feel compelled to shoot first and ask questions later.
April’s journey begins with her concern over the intense lucid dreams she has been experiencing. As the story unfolds, she finds herself in the midst of the proverbial good versus evil, chaos versus order, conflict. Along the journey she discovers strengths she didn’t know she had, like courage, compassion, and self-sacrifice. The journey is actually two parallel journeys, one journey will prevent a cataclysm and the other will allow April to discover her place in the universe. In the context of the game, each is equally important.
The story touches on many mystical and philosophical questions dealing with subjects as diverse as religion, urban decay, drug use, child abuse, magic, big-business corruption, cola-wars, pre-marital sex, homosexuality, and man-machine technology. This gambit of issues is interwoven in an intriguing story complete with puzzles and quandaries requiring out-of-the-box thinking. This game will stimulate both sides of your brain and challenge even the most experienced adventure gamer.
Game play and user interface is fairly typical adventure game fare, with mouse clicks being the main mode of interaction. April is free to explore her world and interact with the characters she meets and the game does a good job of rewarding the player that takes the time to explore. Using inventory is intuitive and the amount of inventory is mercifully not arbitrarily limited. Suffice it to say, if you can pick it up and take it with you, then do so.
The Longest Journey is set several hundred years in the future, but elements of contemporary life remain, so everything is familiar, but in an unsettling way. The art work for the backgrounds and cityscapes are magnificent. It is almost guaranteed that you will find several scenes desirable for Windows desktop wallpaper. The sound and musical score are excellent and do a commendable job establishing the feel for each particular scene or situation.
In game animation uses 3D modeling for April and all the characters she can interact with. The character animations are stylized and will not be easily confused for an attempt at realism. Rather, the animations fit the overall tone of the game and the artwork in it - a sort of surrealistic combination of modern pop art styles. The surreal nature of the art helps give the game an edge that never allows the player to feel that all is well. There is a constant feeling that something is about to happen. This is very important for any adventure game and in book parlance The Longest Journey would be described as “a real page-turner.”
And so it must end
The Longest Journey is rated M-Mature by the ESRB rating system, but decisions about appropriateness should go beyond that rating. This game is designed from the ground-up for a mature audience. All of the themes are adult, all aspects of the game are approached from adult sensibilities. Not only is the subject matter too mature for children, but from a strictly playable point of view, players without at least a college perspective will most likely be bored by the extensive exposition and contemplative pacing.
In addition, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out that the game’s overall tone will probably not sit well with the more politically right-aligned members of society. Funcom is a Norwegian-based company and the game reflects a more liberal attitude common in that part of Europe. It is an attitude that Jerry Falwell and his ilk would probably find disconcerting. Most traditional authoritative institutions are on the receiving end of at least one of April’s barbs. Personally, I rather enjoyed them, but if you are overly sensitive to such criticism then I would think twice about playing this game. If, on the other hand, you find volleys fired at sacred institutions appealing, this is a game for you.
The Longest Journey is one of the best adventure games I have ever played and has single-handedly reestablished the viability of the genre in the eyes of many hard-core computer gamers. Myst may have sold a zillion copies and this game may only sell a few thousand, but The Longest Journey is infinitely better. If you played Myst and enjoyed it, get this game and see for yourself what an adventure game should be, because this is the best of the genre available.