Obviousville: the Longest Cut SceneI'm not sure why I bought Dreamfall: The Longest Jorney. Mid-life crisis, a breakdown of personal responsibility, alcoholic stupor--it's anyone's guess. I'm not really an "adventure gamer." The incredibly obtuse puzzles drive me crazy, and--more importantly--bore me. And they're the biggest reason that adventure games are a niche genre, because the games just aren't very accessible to a wider audience.
Which, as it turns out, is the one thing that Aspyr is trying to change with the game. And they succeeded, but to succeed, they had to fail.
Let me explain.
First, let me talk about the positives. The world is bright and very carefully crafted. It's highly atmospheric. The voice acting, generally, is outstanding--nuanced, authentic, and entirely convincing. Daryl Alan Reed as the voice of Charlie might be the single best voice acting I've ever heard in a game. The writing is very, very good, even though the story is desperately in need of extensive editing.
So if it's so attractive, and it succeeds in being more accessible, how can it fail?
It fails because in becoming more accessible, it becomes far less interesting. The process is entirely linear, and because it's almost impossible to make a mistake, your success feels entirely meaningless. The puzzles (it may be a stretch to even call them "puzzles") are so simple that even someone like me, who is wretched at solving adventure-game puzzles, can stroll right through without even thinking. There's just no challenge.
Here's an example of how spectacularly low the bar is set. At one point, Zoe (the central character) is in a security room with a bank of cameras. We see one of the cameras with someone who is easily recognized as being crucial to the story. "201" is overlaid on the image--obviously, a room number.
That's when Zoe says: the screen said 201. I think she wants me to go to room 201 and open the closet.
That's when I thought to myself: what the hell do I do now? Damn, I'm totally stuck.
I mean, come on! A hint is one thing, but that's not a hint--that's a leash.
The pace is another problem. It's languid. The cut scenes are terrific, and they're clearly as long as they are to establish a more intimate, personal association with the characteres, but they last forever. There are times where you'll see a cut scene that seems to last several minutes, take an action that requires less than thirty seconds, and then there will be another cut scene. Or two. Once I saw FIVE cut scenes interrupted only by one fifteen second sequence which consisted of running up a flight of stairs and using a mobile phone.
I'm very confident that if you timed how long you actually spend playing the game, it would be considerably less than the time you spend watching the game. And most of the time, it's fun to watch. It's an excellent piece of machinima unfortunately occasionally interrupted by a weak game.
I would be entirely willing to watch the film, if all the cut scenes were stitched together. But the gameplay is so tedious that it's just not worth it.
I could see someone who has very little experience playing games absolutely loving The Longest Journey. Maybe adventure gamers would somehow look past the problems and be thrilled. For anyone else, though, I think it will be an exercise in disinterest.
Except for the cut scenes. Damn, they're good.