Wot I Think: The Journey Down Chapter 2

By John Walker on August 27th, 2014 at 7:00 pm.

Adventure charmer The Journey Down Chapter 2 has come hurtling in only, um, two years after Skygoblin’s first part. However, with a lengthy, well-constructed and rather pleasant game as a result, it seems it was rather worth the wait. Here’s wot I think:

New adventure games tend to make one of two mistakes. They either think they need to incessantly reference the games that inspire them as if this will incarnate their glory through the years, or they think they have to “update” the format in one way or another. Which makes it such a pleasure to report that The Journey Down Chapter Two does neither. It just gets on with being really good at being an adventure game. And this time, unlike its somewhat stilted predecessor, this feels like a fully developed, good sized game in itself.

The first chapter of The Journey Down came out in August 2010. Which makes it a really rather remarkable four years between chapters, if you’re being mean. If you’re being fair, you’ll point out that the first chapter was re-made in 2012/3. Still, that’s a year and a half to have forgotten the plot, making Chapter 2’s complete lack of a “previously on” pretty odd. However, it really does come down to: you’re Bwana, a pilot, who along with this mechanic friend Kito, are trying to get their plane working so they can help a client. The whys, the details of a book found in the first part, and what exactly is the forbidden Underland, remain questions.

Questions which are, I’m pleased to say, either answered or satisfactorily expanded upon in this second chapter. And it’s a significantly better chapter too: longer, more detailed, better puzzles, and a much better flow to the whole experience. It’s even prettier too.

The bulk of the game is set in Port Atue, a mist-shrouded, bleak town, ground to a halt by a faulty lighthouse, and ground down by an oppressive military police with a corrupt captain. However, none of this does anything to offset Bwana’s cheery disposition, who meanders through a gloomy setting with upbeat optimism, without ever seeming naïve. Lina, their client and now friend, is determined to learn some secrets regarding the mysteries of the Underland and the book that once belonged to Bwana’s father. But seems to have some concerning familiarity with the town’s evil leader. Hmmmm.

This plays out as a remarkably traditional point-and-click adventure, with far fewer clumsy puzzle-puzzles this time out, much more focused on inventory puzzles and conversation. And incredibly rarely, it manages to always leave a sense of progression. Solving a puzzle leads to a viable solution to another, rather than just another brick wall, and while this makes TJD an easier adventure than many, it’s also a far more satisfying experience.

One mistake the game does occasionally make is having you solve puzzles before a reason to has been given. But then, later in the game there’s a moment where it seemingly spoofs itself for this, which made me want to forgive it for the rest. There’s a steelworks, there’s the means to make a girder, and there’s not a very clear reason to do so. When it doesn’t immediately work, setting you up to solve a fairly obvious puzzle to do the ill-determined task, your character exclaims, “Aw man! I wanted to make a girder!” Yup – that’s as good a reason as any!

It does mean, by the end of the central act (which itself falls neatly into three sub-acts), there’s a run of puzzle solving puzzle solving puzzle solving puzzle solving puzzle, but, well, that feels great! A little contrived that you finally get the oil can you’ve known you’ll need just seconds before its purpose comes into play, but the flow of it all is lovely.

The voice acting is mostly splendid, with just a couple of weaker minor characters, and this time the recording quality is dramatically better. And the script is breezy while delivering a grim world, funny without ever chasing after punchlines. It is, however, overly wordy – certainly it could have done with some hefty sweeping of an editorial scythe. A few too many times I was rolling my eyes and fidgeting to be back in control of the game.

It’s also very impressive looking, just managing to stay the right side of a fine, teetering edge. The game uses lovely hand-drawn backgrounds, almost Flash-cartoony in their style, but the moving parts are elaborately rendered 3D. It’s a striking contrast, and one that I think mostly works really well. The only issue is some of those 3D renders do have that 1990s Vaseline-smeared look to them occasionally, a little bit 90s ray-trace demo. But that’s mostly unfair, and often the cut-scenes are astonishingly complex and impressive.

There’s a really surprising amount of game in here, for something “episodic”. You’ll polish it off in a day, but a day, rather than two hours. And just when you think it’s over, it then gives you a whole other little chapter!

Middle chapters are often the weakest point of an adventure triplet, but that’s certainly not the case here. Chapter 2 is a big step up from the already decent Chapter 1, and delivers lots of rewarding answers on the plot, while introducing enough to make the final chapter worth waiting for, however long that wait might be.

The Journey Down Chapter 1 is currently on Steam for just 50p. Chapter 2 is out now, £5.40, going up to £6 at the end of the month. Or you can buy it directly from the developers via their Humble widget.

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7 Comments »

  1. Saarlaender39 says:

    Bought it yesterday right after stumbling over the news on indiegames.com.
    And I only played the first episode on the 6th of July, so my memory is still fresh enough ;o)

    Haven’t read the whole article, because fear of possible spoilers, but I have to agree – the first episode was a little bit on the short side (three hours, according to Steam).

    But worth every single penny – and I hope the same goes for this.

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      Harlander says:

      I don’t remember how I ended up owning the first episode, but I somehow did and I enjoyed it greatly. If this is even better, that’s, uh, even better I guess?

  2. Premium User Badge

    caff says:

    As someone regaining my love for adventure games, I’m glad you’ve pointed this out. I’ll definitely pick this up from Steam, as both parts are going so cheap.

  3. XhomeB says:

    I’m so excited for the third and final chapter, this is truly an instant classic in the making. Hope the final episode delivers, just as this one has.

  4. PopeRatzo says:

    This Sky Goblin’s Rim looks like a pretty nice game. I don’t care much for this kind of “adventure” game, but you made it sound interesting enough to try, since the previous episodes were above average.

  5. tanith says:

    Wait, whaaat? How did I miss the release of that? I loved the first chapter and was really looking forward to the second one. I even read some news a few months ago about how the next chapter would be released this year but somehow I totally forgot.

    Shame on me.
    Thank you, Mr. Walker, for the reminder.

  6. Charles de Goal says:

    I’ve been thoroughly disappointed by this game. Granted I hadn’t found the first part extremely good (a bit too nice, a bit too bland), but it was still promising, or at least the general atmosphere was.

    Sadly, it seems that for this one they have focused primarily on making slicker (high-res) graphics and on more music. I can’t say there’s anything really original about this game. The gameplay is tired, the puzzles are the same old adventure game puzzles that you can find in many freeware AGS games (you know them: get the key that’s behind the door you need to open, solve some keycode puzzles, manipulate some buttons to get some machinery to move an item from here to there, etc.). It’s not rewarding, because the resolution is often displayed in a bland way too. The characters are too nice and simple, they are vanilla adventure characters without any originality, and so are the dialogues (only the taxi driver saved it a bit for me, with his rhymed speaking). John Walker claims the game is focused on “conversation”, but I wonder why. Yeah, there’s a bit of speaking, but quantity doesn’t make quality or even interest. It’s night and day compared to Blackwell (which has both much better conversations and much better puzzles).

    In the final part of the game, the developers resorted to the most boring kind of puzzles in order to try to raise the difficulty bar a bit: you know, those puzzles where you must make sense of senseless “runes” (under the pretext of a lost ancient civilization, I suppose). I managed to pass them, but the logic behind them remains a mystery and a frustration. Adventure games don’t have to follow this kind of tired tropes (and many don’t).

    A bummer is that the high-res graphics actually don’t bring much to the game. The developers probably don’t have enough manpower to exploit that resolution, so the pictures end up very slick, with little detail. Looking at Bwana’s approximately-rendered orange suit was quite tedious at times. Keeping to low-res graphics would have turned the weakness into a strength, as many adventure games (wisely) do. But I guess high-res graphics make it commercially more viable (or the devs believe).

    This is a game that doesn’t take creative risks; it plays it safe. This is a game that wants to be big in all departments, but ends up unremarkable and disappointing in most. The “afro” style (for lack of a better word? that’s the word the devs used in the “behind the scenes” bonus, anyway) ends up feeling more like a gimmick or a small difference than a topic that’s actually developed: apart from the characters’ faces and speaking accent, there’s not much to relate to any actual social, historical or political issue, I felt.

    A minor issue: the typo used for the subtitles doesn’t fit in the game at all (I need the subtitles as I’m not a native English speaker). Also, using ALL CAPS in some of the subtitles is gross (I’m able to detect that someone is shouting, thank you).

    Kudos still for making a Linux-compatible version of the game. That probably won’t make me buy the next chapter, though, sorry.

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