The adventure game market has been devoid of titles in the past couple of years. Companies have been very shy about releasing new games in the genre and as a result, only a few select offerings have been available. Fortunately, Funcom has seen fit to release a truly excellent adventure game - one that proves that adventure gaming is not dead.
The Longest Journey tells the tale of April Ryan, an 18-year-old girl who is more special than she ever believed. As it turns out, there are two Earths that have been split many years ago. The one we know, based on science, and another based on magic. The worlds have been divided to preserve a balance and April is special in the fact that she is a "shifter" and has the power to travel between these worlds. Of course, all is not well within the balance and, as she discovers, only she can help both worlds. At first, April sees herself as a normal girl but soon her dreams become disturbingly real. She is eventually told about the power she holds and at first doesn't believe it. As she experiences more and more bizarre situations, she cannot disbelieve anymore. Telling any more of the plot would only ruin the excellent story for you so I'll stop there.
The game engine is comprised of bitmap backgrounds with rendered 3D characters performing upon them. The backgrounds are layered so when April moves you see some depth of field on the static backgrounds. The 3D models are very well done and move in a fairly realistic way. I have no problem with animated characters, but the 3D characters give some added detail to the game.
Sound effects are very well done and the voice acting is excellent. This is a very wordy game, and all of the conversations are recorded. Most of the voice actors do an excellent job and there is a lot of variety to the performances. While a couple of them do seem somewhat forced, the overall effect is very good. There are some inherent problems with the various install levels, and I did have problems with an option that did not load the sounds to the hard drive. A larger install was necessary to clear this up, but the sound still stutters on rare occasions. Note that the gigabyte-sized install is the minimum to load all sounds to the hard drive, and should be considered the minimum install for the game, no matter what the requirements say.
You move throughout the game using a simple mouse interface. Click where you want to go or double click to run. The right button brings up the inventory screen, where you may use or combine items to use while solving puzzles. The top of the screen houses the options menu where you can save, restore, or exit the game. It's a very elegant interface that is easy to become accustomed to.
Any adventure game is only as good as its story, and the one in Longest Journey is excellent. It is very long, satisfying, and told in a slowly unfolding way. The plot takes some very nice twists and turns and is very detailed. The game is very verbose and you'll need to pay attention to details as the plot unfolds. Fortunately, the game includes transcripts of all conversations logged so you can review them whenever you like. April also keeps a diary, which you may refer to when you need to access only the most important information. With a story this detailed, these are very welcome tools within the game.
The Longest Journey is one of the best adventure games I've played since 1998's Blade Runner. These types of games are so rare nowadays that it's a true gem that comes along and proves that the genre is still alive and kicking. However, it is not the absence of such games that makes this one special. If the market were flooded with adventure games, this one would still stand head and shoulders above the rest. Thanks, Funcom, for proving that this is still a valid and entertaining form of gaming.