When I first started playing Old Man’s Journey, I wasn’t 100% sure what type of game I was about to play. Was it going to be a narrative story about coming to terms with dying? Was it a puzzle platformer in which I venture across fantastical landscapes as I seek out the unknown? Well, it turns out to be a combination of the two, almost. Broken Rules have delivered a dialogue-free experience which tells a profound, interesting and heartbreaking story of regret, loss and of reconnecting with your lost family, all whilst providing you with a clever puzzle-like experience. Be aware though, the game, even though it’s speechless, has its emotional parts.
Old Man’s Journey begins with our ‘Old Man’ receiving a letter whilst he is casually looking out to sea. Once he reads the letter – something we don’t get to read – he appears all flustered and concerned as he rushes into the house, grabs a backpack and some climbing gear and sets off on his fantastical journey. I say fantastical yet the world is very ‘realistic’ in design, yet the puzzle aspect, which I’ll come to later, is why I classed it as such.
On his journey, you will recall memories which will help you build up the story and understand roughly whats going on. You will also have the chance to interact with various people, although you don’t talk to them, you merely observe. The game’s not too long, but the impact of the conclusion and the emotion you feel as you unlock all of the memories along the way will most likely stay with you for longer than the duration of the game.
Mechanically, Old Man’s Journey plays like a point-and-click game – and you know how much I love those games! Our ‘Old Man’ moves around by clicking the destination on-screen and if he can get to that point then he will go there otherwise he will stay where he is. However, the game isn’t as simple as just clicking to move, as you find out as you progress from the first screen, there is a common puzzle element in place here which you must work with in order to move from screen to screen.
So, “what is this puzzle?” I hear you shout… Movable hills. Yeah, it seems crazy, but it works really well. You must click on the various hills in the back/foreground (as long as you’re not standing on them) and drag them up or down so that part of them intersect with each other. Basically, the ‘Old Man’ can only progress onto landscapes that have a cross-section with each other, which leads to some interesting and clever mini-puzzles.
Even though the ‘puzzle’ aspect is pretty much the only logical mechanic you have throughout the whole game, other than moving the ‘Old Man’ around, the game keeps it fresh and intuitive by adding hazards and obstacles. Sometimes you may have to raise a piece of land for you to stand on whilst you click on a herd of sheep as they move around, to create a path for you to go down, and other times you may have to purposely walk across a waterfall so you drop to a lower level. The mechanics are simple yet also enjoyable to play.
Also, don’t worry about falling down the waterfalls, there is no game over, there is no time-sensitive puzzles/areas, and I never got frustrated or became stuck at any point within the game. It’s a very relaxing pick-up-and-play type of game, which was previously on the Switch – which I can see as being the perfect place to play the game. The question then is, why no Vita version? With its touchscreen and portability, these types of puzzles are a perfect fit for the un-loved handheld.
I’ve been very vague about the main aspect of the game, as it’s a game that must be played and experienced to get the most out of it. I wouldn’t want to take away the emotion and overall beauty of its storytelling by putting in words exactly what happens. That being said, I will give you a few facts to try and help you decide if the game is for you or not. The game isn’t long, it took me around two hours to fully complete the game – however, I enjoyed every last second of it and even replayed a few of the scenes to try and find hidden trophies in the environment as you can click on various things in certain places to spark the occasional environmental interaction.
The puzzle mechanic itself works really well, with the hills highlighting when you can and can’t move them, a clear indication of what’s been intersected and where (so you know you can walk there) and the whole thing works smooth and flawlessly. However, the old man is very stubborn – he won’t move unless there is a definitive path to where you are clicking (which is obvious), but it isn’t always clear which hill isn’t joined. It’s not an issue, just a case of re-adjusting the hills until you have a clear path.
As I said above, moving and dragging the mountains are pretty much the entirety of the gameplay within the game – this games main focus is its story, which it delivers perfectly through narrative-less imagery in the form of moving images and static photos. So, don’t go into the game expecting a massive adventure as you solve different styles of puzzles, talk to people, and uncover secret conversations between various NPCs – go in expecting a calm, relaxing, simple puzzle game with a beautiful story and powerful imagery.
Graphically, every single screen you venture into looks like a work of art. The textures used, the bright and bold colours, the amazing art style – this is why I really enjoy indie titles! Every scene is oozing with beauty and charm, so much that you would be forgiven if you just get to a screen and leave it on it for a while whilst you sit there and look at it. The animations which are also present in each character really helps portray the emotion each person has, without having to provide dialogue to back it up. It must be really hard doing a silent game, and Broken Rules have pulled it off.
The soundtrack is awesome – you guys know I like my soundtracks! Every single piece of music perfectly matches the location and the task you currently have in hand. As you progress, the music becomes more emotional as you work towards the conclusion of the game, as it gets more dramatic as our ‘Old Man’ sits on a bench at the end of each scene and reflects upon what he has done, and lost, in his life. The game is emotional without the music, turn the sound up and it makes the impact a lot more intense in certain scenes.
Overall then, I really enjoyed playing the game. I sat down and played it all in one sitting and then went back to pick up some trophies I missed. It isn’t a hard game to get all the trophies as you get a level select once you have completed the game and it isn’t too hard to work out what you need to do based on the trophy descriptions. The story is one that will stick with me for a while and I’m really glad I was given the chance to play and review this title for the developer. I didn’t really have any issues with the game as such, nothing was too hard, everything worked as intended and I never felt like the game was unfair or playing with me.
First 10 minutes (no commentary):
Old Man’s Journey is an emotional, narrative-less experience in which you must guide an ‘Old Man’ as he embarks on a trip based on the mysterious letter he received in the post. Although the game has one core mechanic – the raising and lowering of hills – the game changes things around by introducing hazards and various other mechanics which will make you think. The whole game looks and sounds beautiful with an amazing art style and a pleasant soundtrack which combinate into an emotional story of discovery, loss, and regret. If you enjoy narrative-based stories (even though this has no spoken narrative) or emotional games in general, then this game is perfect for you.
Old Man's Journey£7.99
- Emotional story told only via visuals
- The soundtrack is perfect and fits the game beautifully
- The overall graphical aesthetic is gorgeous and a delight to look at
- The conclusion will stick with you for a while after experiencing this game
- The 'puzzle' aspect is rather unique and entertaining to solve
- The game is a little short (about 2 hours)
- The 'Old Man' can be a little stubborn at times if things aren't quite lined up perfectly.