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Voyage (PC) artwork

Voyage (PC) review

"Bon Voyage"

As a hardened, war-torn veteran of Delphine Softwareís Another World and ilk, I looked upon the steady resurrection of the cinematic adventure in equal parts awe and horror. Iíve seen things, nameless reader, things you wouldnít believe. So I wasnít particularly heartbroken that a decent slice of this generationís take on the niche genre have left the sadistic chain reaction of trial-and-error deaths on the cutting room floor, instead investing all that untapped effort into environmental storytelling. Thereís been some outstanding examples of this over the last handful of years and, based on artistic merit alone, Voyage could roost comfortably among the best of them.

The game is beautiful. Breathtakingly so at points, as it has you progress through the rapidly changing vistas of an alien planet. You have to poke through what seems to be the ruins of a forgotten world, drinking in what it could have been and what might have happened to it vicariously. You donít have the luxury of making discovery your priority; youíre a pair of marooned survivors holding steadfast to the video game norm that salvation is somewhere to the extreme right. This takes you through sunlight-choked forests populated with fungus spores that retreat into the safety of the earth if you draw near, then pop up again behind you once youíve moved on. Massive structures built in the middle of a river have meticulously carved stone slabs that sink slightly into the water when you place any kind of weight upon them. Is it by design, or is it the unfortunate consequence of neglect? You can only guess. Exhausting stretches of desert have you stumble down massive sand dunes in the background so you can explore a forgotten trail in the foreground.

For a game that caps at around three hours, it crams in a hell of a lot of commendable sights. Midway through, you emerge from a particularly gloomy stretch into a spectacularly lit plateau, overgrown verdant waves of grass rippling in sync with the gently lapping breeze. The ribcages of long broken strictures littered liberally throughout an area reclaimed by huge cattle-like creatures with brilliant white fur covered in irregular crystallised spurs. Combining hand-painted backgrounds, soothing melodies and a constantly live world populated by jittering insects or gliding birds or swaying foliage means thereís always something new to discover. Itís a shame, then, thereís often little to actually do.

Voyageís most prevalent hook is that there are two survivors, who can either be played co-op by two separate people, or competently controlled by a single player. Going solo presents no issues; itís a doddle to issue gestured orders for one survivor to hold their ground or to follow the other. Itís equally easy to switch direct control between the pair. But itís rarely used in a significant way; in fact, thereís only one instance that springs to mind where you have to take advantage of them as individuals and have them complete actions separate from each other. For the most part, they have to work very closely together, performing the same clutch of actions. They need to work together to push that block, which is too heavy for one person to move alone. They need to boost each other in order to reach new heights otherwise inaccessible. It kind of makes playing the game in co-op irrelevant, because so much is specifically designed to have the two survivors act like an extension of each other.

I suspect this is intentional, with the goal being to wordlessly communicate how important one is to the other. Neither of them are going to get very far on their own, and Voyageís brief flirtations with solitude absolutely benefit from that. Even if the shared actions have been uniform and could have very much profited from a greater variety, theyíre essential to progressing. You need to push that pillar over to build a makeshift bridge, but you canít do it alone. Thereís a way forward just beyond that ledge, but scaling it by yourself is fantasy. One without the other doesnít get very far. One without the other is doomed.

Being stranded and dying alone makes up the entirety of Voyageís threat. Thereís no hostile wildlife threatening to chase you down, no endless abyss to plummet into if youíre a few pixels loose of a perfect jump. Thereís no jumping at all; itís not a game that has you worry about multiple deaths and oft visited checkpoints. Voyage takes that aspect completely out of the journey, building it around exploration, about finding new sections of the world and trying to decipher it entirely from your own perspective. Crumbling murals offer hints to the fate of the planet. Nomadic aliens seem to be on a permanent pilgrimage to somewhere, joining your travels repeatedly, but showing little acknowledgment that you exist at all. Do you? Do they? Youíll never receive a direct answer, and each new discovery is just as likely to offer new questions than it is to bolster any understanding.

Itís important to know that, going in. Many of the things you'd expect from Voyage are either intentionally absent or, like the co-op play, noticeably malnourished. It throws everything at picking through this forgotten planet, which once was something grander than it currently is. Itís only interested in feeding your curiosity; your twitch reflexes can take the day off.

EmP's avatar
Staff review by Gary Hartley (February 19, 2021)

Gary Hartley arbitrarily arrives, leaves a review for a game no one has heard of, then retreats to his 17th century castle in rural England to feed whatever lives in the moat and complain about you.

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A clever inside reference.


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