You might never get a second chance to make a first impression, but the requirement to fully review a game means that trope regularly goes out of the window and I have to grit my teeth and play it regardless of its quality. In Voyage’s case that worked in its favour, since my initial response was such that if I’d bought it on Steam, the refund would have been activated within fifteen minutes. I can’t recall the last time I’ve been so frustrated trying to get a game into a playable state.
It. Was. Horrible.
This is a co-op game (which, in fairness, can be played on your own), that has a control system based solely around icons rather than text. Given that the entire game is similarly free from words, I understand the need for accessibility and aesthetic continuity. I really do. But at the same time, trying to map one player to a controller and another to a keyboard shouldn’t be the gaming equivalent of donating bone marrow. All I wanted to do was independently have two players who weren’t overriding each other’s controls, but the mapping screen is an exercise in Sisyphean agony. Maybe I was being supremely stupid, but I was this close to scoring the game 1 and throwing it in the digital bin.
After a restful sleep, fresh eyes and perverse determination, I finally managed to decipher the options menu and get Voyage to work for both me and my partner. From that point, all the pain sloughed away leaving behind a cathartic, artistic and very simple co-op platformer which soothed my fury to the extent that — even with these opening paragraphs in mind — I can still recommend it. But my goodness, two-man developer Venturous really needs to tweak that control screen in a future update.
The game itself is almost hypnotically chill to play. The controls amount to a couple of usable buttons in co-op, namely highlighting hotspots and helping each other up and around obstacles. You take control of two nameless characters who walk along, slide down and fall through a series of beautiful hand-painted landscapes, uncovering remnants of a lost civilisation as they do so. While the developers, brothers André & Johan Steen, are Swedish, it felt like the protagonists have a hint of British colonialism about them given the amount of cultural relics and monoliths they end up destroying in their efforts to uncover the truth of their predicament. On the way, they’ll encounter spirits, bubbles, a Charon-esque ferryman and several odd cows who have nothing better to do than help you smash up the environment to get you moving onward. Classic cow behaviour.
Voyage has walking simulator vibes about it, no doubt. The pace is measured. There’s no running, lest the focus on the visuals and the cracking soundtrack be lost. The puzzles amount to little more than travelling forward and backward to press a button or activate a relic, and it’s an aural and graphical delight which still retains a warm indie glow.
What is actually happening throughout is anyone’s guess, though. The inspiration from the likes of other cinematic pleasures such as Journey, ICO and RiME are clear, but Venturous has crafted its own take on the genre with a sublime use of bokeh to highlight both the path you need to take and the landscape you’ll traverse as you do so. Your characters will be pushed from verdant fields through piercing golden sands to a spaceship on fire, the timeline skewed and the objective unclear. It’s certainly quite the Voyage.
Whether that appeals or not depends on your appetite for obscurity, since you certainly won’t be here for the challenge. At only a couple of hours long, it begs for a playthrough in a single sitting but even then the final cutscene will leave you scratching your head (although repeated runs may yield answers to some of the bigger questions). However, I’m not sure the game’s lovely art is enough to make up for its simplistic, non-evolving gameplay, especially in the final third when a tiresome back-and-forth replaces the rest of the game’s far more soothing “walk right until something happens” dynamic. Either way, the brevity is such that niggles will soon be forgotten. The same might be said for the overall game in due course, but it remains a lovely experience even so.
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