This is the first time reviewing a VR title; I am glad my first is Journey for Elysium. I was able to see this title whilst in its development stages during my time at 1UP convention in February 2019 (for more info on that amazing event, check out the news piece here). From that moment, I kept an eye on the development progress and jumped straight into my own Journey For Elysium when it was released.
Due to being quite the novice with Virtual Reality, I must openly admit that comparing titles on the market is a relatively new experience for myself; however, I have had the opportunity to explore a fair share of VR titles since the Oculus Rift S launched back in May.
Journey For Elysium (herein JFE) is such a breath of fresh air compared to a lot of the titles currently available on the VR market. The gameplay is smooth with seamless controls and interactions; from rowing the boat and climbing walls to throwing vases and coins; the entire playthrough is such a fluid experience that noticeable differences between real-world movements and virtual-world movements were near non-existent – whether you are throwing vases at each other to see the destruction, or sprinkling the coins into the orbs like a boss.
Unfortunately, the whole journey through JFE was not positive. I suffer from motion sickness, and this did hinder my playtime with this title. The team behind JFE had tried to counter the effects of the game for users with motion-sickness by adding in the ability to teleport rather than walk; this is accessible through the movement settings in the menu (it is also a decision that is made at the start of the game).
Despite this setting being available, I admit that I could only play the game in short bursts because of the boat movement and climbing segments. This was disappointing but difficult for any company to counter. Nonetheless, I played through the game to its end and even tested out the ‘immersive’ settings of movement (the walking rather than teleporting); even though it had a very negative effect on me, I can still appreciate how immersive and well-designed this option is!
The use of the bow is seamless, and the player will become very used to this mechanic as it is a vital tool for the journey and to solve puzzles with. The flight of the arrow is true to physics and everything about the bow feels well implemented.
Unfortunately, it felt like a lot of the puzzles and gameplay was oversimplified; this could have been countered by adding a steeper learning curve or a more challenging experience coming closer to the end of the game. The title would also have benefitted from being a less linear adventure, and the lack of exploration was somewhat disheartening – for example, in the temple the player is tasked with finding gold coins to progress forward; the task of finding these coins meant merely smashing vases in a relatively small area. This could have been made more interesting by adding a bit more exploration into the concept rather than walking around the room finding which vases to smash.
The story to JFE can be completed in just over two hours, but this isn’t necessarily a complete negative. Where I would have preferred the game to have given more in playthrough time, it countered this negative with a beautifully crafted story inspired by Greek and Roman mythology and a genuinely great storytelling adventure fuelled by emotion. Due to its short length, I will not be going into details about the story itself as to avoid spoilers – but it is very good!
A brief overview of the story is that you will take on the role of an unnamed hero who has passed away and is now trapped in the underworld. To reach Elysium you must use your wits and skills in a series of elaborate twists and challenges. During the journey, you will discover more about the hero’s past.
OK, so the visuals are by far my favourite part about this title. In a word, they are beautiful. The greyscale environment inspired by Gustave Doré for much of the journey is a perfect setting for this game. All the scenery is gorgeous, I found myself becoming lost in admiring the skies and the river in the underworld – every ounce of detail has been created to fully immerse you in this fantastically designed world.
The use of the golden aura’s, keys and coins are brilliant. This touch of colour gave a magnificent feel and was used very effectively. As well as this, the team even used a community-inspired design for the Key to the Underworld (they had given the community a choice of designs for the key and implemented the most popular one). The beauty of this game is truly jaw-dropping.
With the good comes the bad though. I feel with all this detail being put into areas of the game, certain textures could have been improved – for example, you can see the minor flaws in some of the walls and rock faces, but the most obvious is the tall grass in some parts feeling a little underwhelming. I must say, I would not have noticed some of these occurrences if I wasn’t actively looking so closely at the game to produce this review, but once you are on the lookout for these things, they do become noticeable.
Another negative was the transition from one area to another (sometimes not always), the player will enter a type of ‘limbo’ in some of the transitional areas. I could put this down to my computer or hardware, but I do use a top-end 2019 gaming computer and the brand-new Oculus Rift S; this makes me think that these slight graphical lapses may come from the game rather than the hardware I am running.
It must be noted that despite these slight issues the game was an absolute beauty; I stand by my ‘fluid’ comment in the gameplay section of this review, because graphically there may have been some slight bugs, but overall it is an extremely pleasant and smooth experience.
I find a lot of titles get the gameplay and visuals right, but then fall short on the audio aspects; fortunately, JFE is not one of the titles which do this. JFE’s audio complements the game perfectly. The surrounding sounds in the areas help to truly immerse you in this journey. As well as this, the narrative is performed exceptionally well, and I have no negative points to make about this section of the game.
The implementation of using different notes from the lyre to perform certain tasks was ingenious and each note played is easily distinguishable from the next. Great care has been taken by the team to ensure the audio cues flow smoothly with the experience.
Overall this game is a huge step in the right direction for VR, and in my eyes is a must-play for any VR gamer who enjoys a story-driven puzzle adventure. Unfortunately, it is not great for those with motion sickness and this will play a big part in whether this title is for everybody. Slight graphical bugs here and there made some of the transitions uncomfortable, but the use of the hero’s equipment with fluid movements and interactions were implemented perfectly. The visuals are top-notch, the audio and narrative fit the game perfectly, and altogether really bring the player into this beautifully crafted world.
The story could have been slightly longer, the path was too linear and the puzzles were oversimplified; but as a whole, all were used within the title very well. With only a few flaws to the game, I believe it is truly deserved of its overall score compared to other titles within the VR market of a similar genre and style. I look forward to seeing what else comes from this company in the future.