Point and click adventure games are usually synonymous with LucasArts in most people's minds. However, although LucasArts certainly perfected the genre, and gave the world the SCUMM system, they by no means make the only good games.
All the way back to the Atari ST with games like Erebus, or Obitus, there have been some intriguing and wonderful games. Even "Scoop" back on the Archimedes was fascinating in its own way. But technology has moved on. Branching story lines, throwaway disk space, FMV, voiceovers, you name it. The main thing which more modern computers allows is for a variety of backgrounds, sounds and models. This allows the game creators to generate a less homogenous world, giving you more of a sense of adventure. How many old PaC games have spent their entire time wandering around the same desert island, or the same metallic city?
The Longest Journey isn't made by a mainstream distributor, like EA or LucasArts. It snuck under the radar, and has sat on shelves in stores, or on Steam for a long time, with an unattractive, amateurish-looking advert. the postive reviews, however, show that underneath a game that outwardly looks decidedly second or third-tier (like some of the "hidden object" games, is a compelling, almost-first-tier game.
The game starts off strange, and remains delightfully off-kilter all the way through. It really leverages the universe that it's set in, to allow fast, interesting scene changes. The artwork is luscious, and the voice acting is both hilarious, and excellent. The music's pretty good too. It's very satisfying to solve puzzles, and you get a genuine flow of story. Solving a puzzle doesn't leave you thinking "now what?". The in-game journal provides an amazing amount of back-story and hints.
So, why do I say it's only "almost" a first-tier game? Well, it has a few kinks. Although it plays perfectly well on a Windows-7 PC, it is ageing. The FMV is older-style "3DSMax" rendering, with high compression (Think Tomb Raider 2 FMV). Also, it's short. Don't let my playtime fool you, I had the game minimized for a lot of the time. I actually finished it in about 6 or 7 hours. But the length, and the slightly "B-grade" FMV isn't what knocks it off the top spot, it's the habit that the game has, of breaking its own rules. I'll explain:-
The game is a series of "compartments", You finish everything that's within one compartment, using everything that's in that area, and then you move through to the next one. This is pretty standard PaC fare, actually. Early in the game, you get access to the "Metro", which allows simultaneous access to the the next compartment, while allowing access to previous ones. 9/10 times, re-visiting those older areas does you no good at all, you just go to the next 'opened up area'.
However, there are a few times in the game where you hit a brick wall. You're trying to "use everything-on-everything" (uEoE) in the usual PaC way, but nothing's helping. The only thing to do it backtrack to an earlier area, and do the uEoE approach again, in the hope that you get a different outcome. Sometimes it makes a kind of sense... often you scratch your head and think "uhh.. that makes NO sense, I could have easily done that THIS way, if the game had let me".
To attempt to reduce the futility, the game flashes objects when you hover them over each other, to show that it's a valid response to uEoE, but you're still dragging, clicking and right-clicking for literally HOURS until you find that (for example- changing the objects, but not the logic), using the "PEPPER SPRAY" (obtained in area 5) on the "DUCK" (in area 3), will cause a door to open in Area 7. Why? Because eventually, after going through the door, you need to go back to where the duck was sitting to get the next piece of dialog, which is dependent on going through the door in area 5. This is just after you have used the "BREAD" on the "DUCK", and have had a piece of dialog that says "Ok, I better leave him alone then". Hmmm. Why go back and bother the duck, when the game just told me not to.
So, I had to resort to the walkthrough a few times because i'd spent too long uEoE and the combinatorial complexity was teeing me off. There is another puzzle where the hint just isn't good enough to let you know how to solve it, and the combinatorial complexity is something like 4x6x6x6x6 to just get it "randomly" right.. A futher hint which doesn't ruin the puzzle completely reduces this to just 2x2x2 (telephone puzzle).
Despite this, I had a wonderful time exploring the interesting world. For a "indie", this is amazingly well made. The outtakes at the end are great too.
I totally recommend playing it if you like PaC games which focus a little more on the cyberpunk / fantasy / sci-fi realm. It's not "Blade Runner" or "The Dig", but you'll really enjoy its humour and setting. Very well recommended, but keep one tab open on a walkthrough page! ;)