It is truly unfortunate, when a promising game receives a lot of negative attention (and reviews) because of its difficult control scheme. I am torn over this matter since I cannot disagree with some of those critics. A PC game that is best experienced with a controller instead of mouse+keyboard can be a tough sell for the Steam crowd. I didn’t use a controller for The Long Journey Home, yet I did manage to “train” myself enough to avoid frustration from the many failed attempts to steer either the ship or the lander. More on that further below; I shall focus a bit on the developer now.
Daedalic Studio West may not have other Steam projects to brag about, but you cannot call them debutantes. Daedalic Entertainment is celebrating 10 years of activity in 2017 and they were quite prolific, with several dozen launched Steam projects (some as multi-platform titles as well) and a handful new ones always in development. You can say what you will, but these guys know what they’re doing and the “gamble” with a more realistic space exploration game that might integrate some laws of physics along with elements of astrophysics, should have payed off. It looked great on paper, of that much I’m certain. Yet something didn’t quite click right…
The Long Journey Home is a narrative-driven experience, despite some procedurally generated elements in regards to the planets themselves. Replay value can be found in the way in which you become accustomed to the various alien races that you meet across multiple playthroughs. It’s important to understand that you won’t be able to encounter every single species of creatures or plants, alien ruins or planet types in a single sitting and profile. Your main goal is to get back home, Earth, and everything else, from planetary exploration, diplomatic endeavors, experiments upon alien technology, and resource gathering, are just secondary objectives.
Players assume control of the ship and crew of the Daedalus-7 Jump Test mission, tasked by the IASA (International Aeronautic & Space Administration) with the exploration of Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to our own Solar System. As the case with most prototype equipment and forays into the unknown, Daedalus-7 is an apparent failure, with the ship & crew declared lost after they can no longer contact mission control and have in fact, overshot their intended destination by a large margin. They are now stranded, more than 37847 parsecs away from Terra. A parsec is a unit of measurement, equal to about 3.26 light-years (31 trillion kilometres or 19 trillion miles) in length. You better get used to a lot of terms and principles related to space travel, because The Long Journey Home aims for a more comprehensive vision than its genre competitors.
The Long Journey Home’s being powered by the Unreal Engine 4 in a skilled manner in which I encountered no frame rate dips or glitches and could run it on a 4K resolution and constant 60fps. Ideal conditions and The Long Journey Home sure provides plenty of screenshot opportunities, with its beautiful simulation of alien worlds and spaceship battles. Some assets and characters make use of the large pixel visual style, yet that is isolated enough to make room for high res textures in other parts. No complaints from me, in regards to the title’s looks.
The sounds on the other hand, would have benefited from more variety. The soundtrack is fine, as are the sound effects, but my main gripe with the game’s audio department, is the lack of voice acting. It was not enough to mark it as a weak point, but for a title that wants you to feel attached to your crew members and ensure their survival and well-being, it felt a bit disappointing just to read the chat between themselves or the feedback they offered on occasion. Their quirky personalities could sure use the boost offered by a handful of spoken dialogue lines. At least the aliens emit some jibber-jabber to compensate for your silent team.
The gameplay in The Long Journey Home, depending on how much patience you have, may be either a blessing or a curse. It is no understatement that the control scheme and ship/lander movement mechanics took a toll upon my own self-composure, yet I could never conceive rage quitting on a review project. I got better at the handling part, so that helped as well. Just be wary that it will require a hefty amount of careful planning (along with trial & error), before you’ll achieve the perfect landing without breaking the limbs of your lander pilot or enter a planet’s orbit without overshooting or passing the atmospheric threshold (bringing your massive ship too close to a planet).
I honestly think that the control scheme itself may not be the issue and the speed of your lander/ship trajectory is in fact the main culprit. The simulation of the space travel aspect is on fast-forward, since it obviously still takes days for your vessel to move around a single star system, even if we’re in deep Sci-Fi realm and speculation already. So at least the option of moving slower, should be implemented in a subsequent update. Yeah, I know that the chaotic speed and gravity pull is affected by the various planetary conditions. I think we’re going a bit too realistic with this though. I’m all for throwing arcade elements out the window, only for as long as the fun factor remains intact. And this isn’t Space Flight Simulator 2017.
As for the actual gameplay outside of getting your ship into orbit or landing on a planet in order to explore or harvest its resources, a large part of The Long Journey Home focuses on your human crew’s interaction with various alien species. Some may be friendly, others quite hostile and most of them are plain weird while it’s up to your team to cater to their unusual needs. Be diplomatic and you will find you journey back home, far more pleasant. If you wish to be aggressive, bear in mind that you’re not in control of a warship and that your motley crew are of scientific background, not trained killers.
As of this writing, the dev team did respond in a timely manner to criticism relating to the high overall difficulty and have implemented a Story Mode, which is addressing some of the issues I mentioned above. You can still pick between the initial Adventure (“normal) and Rogue (unforgiving) Modes, but I strongly recommend you get acquainted with the gameplay mechanics in the new Story Mode. I congratulate Daedalic Entertainment on this speedy recovery in terms of crowd-pleasing.
I admit that few devs correct gameplay mistakes or unbalance in a swift manner, unless we talk of the dreaded day 1 patches. Still, it’s a nice move from a developer that clearly cares about its customers and players. I was going to comment on the game’s price tag, but really if it bothers you, just wait for an inevitable Steam Sale. I will be playing The Long Journey Home a lot more, now that some of my complaints are no longer valid. Hope you will enjoy it too.
EDIT: Steam Trading Cards have been added after almost a month from the publishing of this review.
All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.