I’ve always been fascinated by space travel. The act of humans venturing out into that final frontier, strapped into machines both immensely complicated and painfully fragile has always been a goldmine for creative ideas. The Long Journey Home capitalises on a delicate balance of systems which can be either rewarding or brutal all depending on a mixture of luck and player skill. And while the game does have a tendency to lean more towards the brutal and unforgiving side of things, the sense of progression and sheer amount of content makes it stand out from the crowd in a genre which is very crowded indeed.
The Long Journey Home follows the Human race’s first forays into jump-powered space travel. Firstly the game tasks players with assembling their crew. It’s here that the game first gives a glimpse into the depth and scale moving forward. A varied cast of characters, cosmetic ship options and a procedurally generated universe are all thrown down on the plate for the player to make their first of many difficult and critical decisions. There’s a real sense of ownership over each play through, and it’s easy to form your own stories about the particular set up you end up selecting. After a brief cinematic in which a warp jump goes wrong and propels the team out into deep space, the mission is made abundantly clear, make it back to Earth by any means necessary.
To complete the game, players must interact with alien races, trade, mine for resources and manage fuel, warp energy and maintain the hull. All of this is overwhelming at first, and that’s the point. The Long Journey Home really nails the feeling of being completely out of your depth. As well as being nerve wracking to play, the game is also comically difficult. Fail to set the lander down gently, boom there goes half of the hull integrity. Misjudge your course and get to close to a star, well you sir just lost a lot of fuel and gave a crew member radiation poisoning. The game is all about rolling with the punches and accepting the fact that odds are, your crew aren’t making it back to Earth. And I never did quite make it back, after several attempts I got closer and closer, forged alliances with new races and upgraded by ship making every resource last until the very end. The fact that most players are unlikely to make it back doesn’t hinder the experience though, as with each death comes knowledge and a heightened level of caution.
Visually the game is incredibly engaging. Planets are all slightly different and each alien race has its own temperament, lore and set of motives. This diversity ensures that no two playthroughs are ever the same, staying fresh throughout and easing frustration which would otherwise have taken over due to the ease of failure. The navigation map is clear, detailed and dynamic and really gives the impression of exploration.
I do wish that the game’s characters had more time to shine. With each being so distinctly different on paper the opportunity was there to create interesting scenarios and story arcs. Unfortunately the crew kind of take a backseat to the frantic search for resources. When I inevitably lost a crew member to injury or landing failure I never felt like I missed them, only concerned with the idea that I now had one less life. The rich catalogue of NPCs do alleviate this emptiness somewhat by being well rounded and complex characters.
Sound design is another area in which The Long Journey Home shines. Engines hum, drills scratch and scrape through rock and aliens babble on with imaginative and distinct dialogue. In terms of performance there’s very little to report. Animations were smooth and the frame rate steady.
In a sense, The Long Journey Home is a collection of mini games. There’s the one in which you must gently boost your ship into orbit around a planet. Another tasks you with piloting a lander to collect resources all the while dealing with violent and unpredictable weather systems. Resource management is a whole game in itself with a constant eye needed to keep the ship chugging along. The well being of your faithful crew too, must be monitored and treated on the fly, often sparking desperate supply runs and trading sequences.
There’s a lot of moving parts here and they all come together nicely, well, mostly. The lander/ resource mining sections do grow quite tedious after a while. Finicky controls and the tendency for the Lander to move whilst drilling make for frustrating and repetitive sections which can go on for too long. And seeing as they’re the main way to gather resources, you’ll be doing these tasks a lot. It’s these sections where I wish that The Long Journey Home would ease up a little, cut the player some slack if you will.
It’s a sense of discovery which drives The Long Journey Home along. The desire to meet new races, find new artefacts and get closer to Earth never eases up and always makes the time spent with the game well worthwhile. Repetitive missions and dull crew members can hinder the experience at times, but the promise of another planet to explore and the final goal of reaching Earth is always there to keep you invested. The Long Journey Home is a deep, dynamic and challenging adventure which is well worth embarking on.