Old Man’s Journey is a new game by Austrian game developers Broken Rules. It tells the story of an old man who after receiving a mysterious letter decides to pack a rucksack and leave his cosy cliff side house to go on an adventure. It’s a relaxing puzzle, point-and-clicker that has the player move the hilly landscape to allow our grandpa to move from one area to another. Intertwined with an emotional story of ambition and life’s fleeting moments Old Man’s Journey is a mini adventure set in a dreamy and vibrant world.
Broken Rules have previously created the screen rotating, physics game And Yet It Moves and the mysterious and playful Secrets of Raetikon. Old Man’s Journey will be the third in this trio of puzzle games made by Broken Rules and looks to be a continuation of the studio’s visually stunning games.
With around one to two hours of gameplay, Old Man’s Journey is heart aching and endearing short tale. After the old man has made his decision to leave his home the player is there to help him traverse the dreamy, breezy countryside to reach his goal. The narrative of Old Man’s Journey is told through visual storytelling and this is achieved mainly through environmental storytelling and within the old man’s flashbacks to his past. It’s through his memories that we see his sad tale, a clashing of family and ambition. Through clicking on objects within the world or settling him down on a quiet bench to rest, the old man will start to reflect and remember the past and his memories will swim into focus. As the player and the old man travel together more of these memories are revealed to us. There are some beautiful visual moments that echo what the old man is feeling when visiting certain memories, one particular use is through the representation of the sea.
One idea that Old Man’s Journey does exceptionally well is telling’s its story through environment. Using the games main motif of the sea as an example, the sea plays a vital role in the game and has many different representations. Without giving too much away we learn through an early flashback that the old man is an ex-sailor and that his love for the sea has played a pivotal role in his life. Through no dialogue the player can see that the sea and sailing is the old man’s life, that there is a universal feeling of liberation and freedom with sailing.
The sea also can communicate many of the character’s feelings towards the player without a single line of dialogue. The game explores many symbols of the sea including solitude and loneliness, the sea as a place to reminisce and reflect but also a deep, looming realm that brings both salvation and death. This kind of visual storytelling connects the past and the present together creating a more emotional and engaging experience. I wish they had pushed this visual and environmental story telling a little further, maybe implementing it into the gameplay and puzzle solving.
The main gameplay lies in helping our older friend get from one area to the other by manipulating the hilly landscape. The player selects a particular hill in the scene and through dragging it up and down the hills will dip curve in a way that creates path allowing our spritely older gentleman to hop onto a newly reachable hill. When you move each of the layers it would be temping to add some sound effects of the earth and soil moving or a loud shovelling noise but Old Man’s Journey moving the landscape is smooth and makes no noise, it’s a gentle moving of the landscape.
In some areas if you move the hills and curves in a certain way it reveals a hidden scene underneath which you might have missed before. This idea further evokes the feeling of a children’s book, the ones where you have to lift-the-flap or pull on the paper leaver to make something move. Each puzzle has different layers of valleys, roads and bridges for the player to manipulate and solve. Having the landscape arc and bend to create new pathways is particularly unique to Old Man’s Journey and having control over the different layers in each area gives the game great visual depth.
Broken Rules have described the puzzles of the game as ‘pressure free’ and this captures exactly the nature of the puzzles in this game. They are all pretty easy to solve and serve more enjoyment then challenge. You move the environment and then click where you want the old man to walk. It fits the easy, breezy feeing of the game but that doesn’t mean that they are boring. As the game progresses new obstacles and rules are introduced keeping the gameplay fresh and enjoyable. Having to move some stubborn sheep that are impassable and tumbling down waterfalls are just some of the slight rule changes. Being that Old Man’s Journey is point-and-click its land shaping mechanic makes it completely accessible to tablets and phones. Although the stunning visuals really demand that it’s played on a big screen.
gRAPHICS AND aUDIO
The first thing that charms you right away about Old Man’s Journey is its graphics and style, it might have been the reason you clicked on this review! The vibrant and detailed world is what makes this game special, it’s like a watercolour children’s book. From the dreamy skies to the sun-kissed valleys and everything swaying slightly in the breeze all the visuals in this game are wonderful. The only issue with this storybook aesthetic is that sometimes its difficult to work out where you need the old man to go to complete the area amongst all the layers of imagery. A number of times I had moved him to what I thought was the end of the area to only find out that it was on the opposite side. Overall though this little nag didn’t really effect my enjoying the puzzles, as it was easy to correct my mistake.
The soundtrack compliments the art style completely, composed by SCNTFC and reminiscent of the Amelie soundtrack. It’s humble, charming and captures the mood of the French countryside completely. Its twinkling piano and percussion can be light and cheerful but also turn more reflective when faced with the perils of stormy weather and rough seas.
Old Man’s Journey is a breath of fresh air in the gaming scene. Its beautiful, relaxing and tells an emotional story. What starts out as a whimsical tale develops into a story of broken dreams, reconnection and hope. Its puzzles are easy to understand and enjoyable, its story is universal and its definitely one of the best looking games of 2017. Its environmental storytelling is done in a beautifully subtle way, having the creativity to tell a tale of a man who is captivated by the sea without any words or dialogue. I think thematically Old Man’s Journey is making an accurate comparison between humans and the sea. Both can be playful, deep, irrational and forever changing. Old Man’s Journey is a petite, heartfelt game for everyone to play.
|+ Emotional narrative & enviromental storytelling||– Needed emotive gameplay|
|+ Stunning visual art style||– Hard to know where to exit some areas|
|+ Unique land shaping puzzles|