Ladies and gentleman, this is your space captain speaking. We are finishing up our final equipment checks, and are soon ready for launch. Might I remind you that the success rate of our mission is currently under five percent, and that a successful launch does not necessarily mean we will not crash into the Sun. Godspeed!
“The Long Journey Home” is published by Daedalic Entertainment, and developed by Daedalic Studio West. It is a space exploration game which features randomly generated star systems, encounters, missions, and special points of interest. The game might also be called “Dayum, son, navigating space is HARD”, or even “Everyone you take on this mission will die – the game”. It is not an easy game. It is an unforgiving game. It is not an exhilarating experience either. It is often tiresome and repetitive. But once you figure out how to actually play the game, the inky blackness surrounding your tiny spaceship might not seem so frightening anymore.
The game consists of a variety of elements which together encompass a ‘space odyssey’ that urges you to find your way back to our cosy little speck of water and dirt. There is the survival aspect: without access to resources, your crew dies because of suffocation/lack of fuel/irreversible damage to your spaceship and the diplomacy aspect: without good relations with alien races, your crew dies because of an overabundance of space lasers to the face. Both are equally difficult, and not only because you are inexperienced the first couple of times you start your odyssey. Speaking of which, when you start a new game, you have to make a couple of choices first.
For starters, there is room for a crew of four people. Do you opt for an archaeologist who can study ancient civilizations, or a botanist who can tell you which alien plants are edible and which are sentient, or do you prefer to have a good engineer to help figure out alien technology, or a test pilot, or this dude, or that person, or or or… Plenty of options are available to you; plenty of combinations can be discovered. Each crew member has a specific item that (s)he carries, which might prove useful during your travels through space. It’s up to you to decide, and it’s also up to you to learn which consequences your decisions might have.
Secondly, a space ship and lander have to be chosen. Again, multiple options are available, although here the pros and cons of each ship or lander is made clear via a list of traits such as durability, speed, cargo capacity, etc. No matter what you choose, at some point in the game, you’ll be cursing yourself for not choosing a different model more suitable to survive the pickle you are in at that moment.
Thirdly, after a ‘cataclysmic’ event, you are completely free to choose the way you are going to play the game. Would you rather focus on exploring the universe, thereby maybe finding new technology that can help you get back home, repair your ship and head home as soon as possible, drift around aimlessly without a proper plan, or all of the above? This game is a sandbox-y as sandy sandbox on the beach. This is not a bad thing, though, as the total freedom also gives you the time to properly learn how the game is played.
There are a couple of essential mechanics that you will have to master before you can actually start to have fun with this game. One of them is the ‘slingshot’ principle, i.e. using the gravity of planets to navigate the universe in such a way that you do not waste fuel. This, in itself, is already a very difficult task, as the controls are somewhat awkward and not sensitive enough to enable you to do exactly what you want. You also do not have a proper view of your immediate surroundings, but are treated to a simplistic mini-map. Additionally, navigating space is seen as a mini-game which you, sadly, cannot skip. I tried countless times to properly get into the orbit of a planet, and that’s just the easy part of the navigation. Playing around with gravity, thereby properly using the ‘slingshot’ principle, comes after you have mastered basic navigation. It never happened for me.
Another rather frustrating part of the game is landing on a planet’s surface, which is also a form of mini-game. You come crashing down the atmosphere at speed which will force Keanu Reeves to admit that sometimes you have to slow down a bit (very old movie reference here, people). Safely landing with your tiny spacecraft is another thing you have to master, and if you’re not particularly good at it, or just couldn’t care less, well, then it’s not your lucky day. Navigating your lander is essential for you to be able to explore / refuel on planets, and this, too, is not something you can skip. I feel Mass Effect 2 did it better, and that game had the exploration of a planet’s surface as the only way to properly upgrade your spaceship.
“The Long Journey Home” is not a bad game, but it is not a mainstream game either. It caters to a specific type of gamer who wants have an incredible amount of freedom as a reward for an endless repetition of compulsory mini-games. There is lots of fun to be had, as the random encounters (with for example sentient plant-planets which wish to spread across the galaxy) keep the game fresh every time you start it. There are multiple ways of dealing with certain problems, and, as is the case with many of these games, the journey itself is as important as its destination. It’s simply a journey I would wish to skip. Let someone else drive. I’ll watch the scenery for a bit.