The lasting impression that Old Man’s Journey leaves is one of a bittersweet melancholy. A simple point and click game with beautiful rendered 2D landscapes, it’s ostensibly a puzzle game, but in reality the puzzle element is secondary to its understated thoughtful, contemplative nature, which is its true accomplishment.
The story is simple, but presented in an innovative way. You play an old man, who right at the start of the game is given a letter by a postman at his home. The letter contains news which obviously troubles him, and he decides to set out on a journey, presumably to tackle whatever is in the letter. As the game unfolds, and you are taken through multiple beautifully rendered landscapes, the old man’s backstory is gradually unfurled to you at certain moments in the form of still images that he recalls, primarily when he takes a break on his adventure, sitting down, often pondering his surroundings.
It’s very minimal on that front, and yet that is definitely where the game resonates most. These little reveals don’t tell you much, but they do tell you enough, and the snippets of his life that are revealed are done so as gorgeously as the rest of the game is, utilizing the art style in a powerful way. The nature of what he is setting out to resolve starts to become clear, and it is all done through those clever visuals.
There is no dialogue in the game, which is something the game both has to get around and make use of, for while it is limiting in the sense that it’s harder to get across a heftier story, it’s also the reason why the game has such an absorbing atmosphere, in the end showing that less is more in this particular case.
In terms of gameplay, the game is once again simple, but also often very clever. You click where you want the old man to go, and where the terrain does not allow you to progress further, you manipulate it so that the old man has a path that he can use to get to the other side. This means you can move and drag the hills that make up the vast majority of the game’s landscape, but there are rules when it comes to doing so. You cannot move the terrain that the old man is standing on, and often the terrain has limits that you cannot move them beyond.
Stone is immovable, and waterfalls drop you down a level of terrain, which can either help get you across, or means you have to think of a way to circumvent or get across the waterfall. This makes up the puzzle element of the game, figuring out how to get the old man from one side to the other so he can progress to the next landscape and environment.
Most of the time this just involves moving the terrain around, but there are moments where you have to do a bit more than that, whether it be moving the hills around so stone wheels smash in to walls, thus opening your path, or turning a lever to bring across a bridge. Sometimes you have to move around wildlife, coaxing sheep to move out of the way so you can pass through, and there are a couple of vehicle sequences where you have to manipulate terrain in order for the vehicle to pass.
None of that is that challenging, and after a while it can start to feel monotonous, but those moments are saved by the story elements, which always retain that melancholic charm. The strongest gameplay moments are in the vehicles, where some extra optional challenge is added if you desire to keep your vehicle going smoothly, necessitating some fast action when it comes to moving terrain in to the correct place.
If you hover the mouse over certain elements of the environment, like trees, they will often move, and if you click on some things, like people or animals, there will often be a special animation, and these are excellent in their own way, if disconnected from the story. Indeed, the game play never quite fuses together with the story in a meaningful way, but it’s ultimately used as a way for the player to be involved in the tale, rather than to influence it.
Ultimately though, despite the sometimes stilted nature of the gameplay, Old Man’s Journey is a game built on atmosphere. Its story comes through in moments amidst beautiful backdrops and a nice, melancholic score that serves to accentuate that feeling of quiet contemplation. Its deliberate pace and serene nature echoing the thought processes of the old man, who ponders his past, recalling happy and sad memories, and generally thinking of the bittersweet moments that make up a lot of the game.
It may only last for roughly ninety minutes, but like the best short stories, it provides you with a small window in to someone’s life, reveling in those snippets and telling its quiet tale in the spaces between those beautiful 2D landscapes. It may not bowl you over, but it will stay with you, lingering like a fond memory.
PUBLISHER – Broken Rules | DEVELOPER – Broken Rules | ESRB – N/A | PLATFORMS – PC/iOS/Android
RECOMMENDED – Boasting beautiful environments and an understated, contemplative and quietly powerful story, Old Man’s Journey overcomes some slight gameplay issues to be a game that engages and often delights in its own unassuming way. Definitely one to play if you’re in the mood for a serene journey through some wonderfully rendered backdrops, though perhaps not if you’re looking for a challenging experience.
Reviewed on the PC. Review code provided by the developer.