A reader highlights a little-known indie title that mixes impressive visuals with heartfelt storytelling and some unusual puzzles.
If ever a demonstration of video games as an artform is needed I can think of no recent title that better illustrates it that than Old Man’s Journey, whose every nuanced, progressive moment is breathtaking to behold. Despite a relatively short run time, every location and vista, every mountain climbed and town visited, is a unique and memorable experience with an artistic style that creates a crescendo of colour and presents an almost ethereal world to explore and reside within.
The main narrative is fairly straightforward and can be summarised by its name: the journey of an old man. Having received a letter in the post, the central protagonist swiftly packs his bag and sets forth across the land, taking in fields, rivers, towns, and lakes as he journeys towards his end destination. During his journey, the old man will take certain breaks to collect his thoughts and reflect on key moments in his life, the screen changing to an assortment of images over the course of the game – each allowing you to piece together the history of the character under your remit.
At no point does the game become too tricky or complicated, as with a moment’s pause to think about your next step you do eventually work out the solution and carry on your journey; maybe on one or two occasions I realised I had overcomplicated the puzzle before me, but then quickly pressed on. As the game progresses different puzzle elements present themselves. Generally, I favoured the environmental puzzles over the practical ones but there is a fun bombardment style game involving barrels as the game nears its conclusion.
One of the defining aspects of this title is the art design and implementation, using an aesthetic that is reminiscent of a number of styles, with hints of washed pastel colouring and shading, a brushed art style that has the finish of oil painting whilst combining elements of block painting, and hints towards cubism with the angular and defined style. Whilst the presentation of the game is fixed the game world is built as a three-dimensional model, allowing the use of layers so the character can appear both in the foreground and background, as and when the narrative requires.
Whilst this is not entirely a subjective fault, the concept of an old man having to mentally adjust landscapes and perform spatial awareness puzzles may seem somewhat contrarian. In the absence of characters to interact with or traditional puzzles to resolve, adopting the facade of a contemplative exploration title is an interesting mix. But towards the end, as the puzzles become slightly more complex and following the introduction of the barrel mechanic, the end feels somewhat abrupt.
To be entirely impartial and objective, an argument could be made as to whether the game is style over substance. The art is beautiful, but the gameplay mechanisms are repetitive on occasion, and only showed some development and innovation towards the end of the game. Personally, I would have liked to have seen more but given the resources available in development I’m more open to giving this game the benefit of the doubt.
In the best tradition of low-budget, independent movies that also utilise sound and colour to drive the narrative forward, there is a fine line between the successful elicit of emotions and overwhelming your audience with imagery but no context or explanation. Old Man’s Journey for me, got that balance right, a successful blend of imagery and sound. I look forward to trying another title from this studio.
By reader ATBonfire (Facebook)/around.the.bonfire (Instagram)/ATBonfire (WordPress)
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