Rating: Not Available
Available for: Android, Windows, iOS
Broken Rules’ Old Man’s Journey (2017) is probably one of the more unique games I’ve played this year. There aren’t any action sequences, no dialogue, not even a character name to go by. And yet, in an hour and a half, it tells a story that is meaningful in its simplicity.
Old Man’s Journey follows an older man, as one might expect, as he receives a sudden letter and must be guided across mountains and sea to an untold destination. Throughout his journey, he encounters obstacles and resurfacing memories of a life he left behind. While moving mountains and pathways in unique puzzles, the player is slowly introduced to the unfolding story and soon realizes where the old man’s destination might be leading.
I’ll refrain from spoilers as much as possible here, because like my post on Transistor, Old Man’s Journey’s short story leaves little room to go into detail.
One thing I loved about this game is their use of environmental storytelling. It can be very tempting to use dialogue to convey your story, especially when you just want your audience to know all the details you’ve come up with. However, Old Man’s Journey expresses their story through the world around the old man: they use the weather, the townsfolk, the different settings like the town and countryside, and the shifting difficulty in terrain to lay out the emotional journey the player must take. The old man reminiscences in significant locations along the way and the player is drawn in by curiosity at what each location might reveal.
I also think this mechanic could have been utilized a bit more. During the puzzles, you can click around for various environmental reactions (the trees move, the sailboats change direction, etc.), something that was very reminiscent of my old point-and-click games. Occasionally, a click would result in a zoom in to focus a person’s small actions (a man playing guitar or a child playing). It would have been interesting to incorporate this into the old man’s story, at least in the beginning segment in the town. How does everyone else in town react to the old man? He’s been there for a while, so they must have some opinion of him. At the same time, these little details made the scenery more alive and not necessarily so focused on the old man, making it a private journey between the player and him.
The progression of weather and the use of terrain was especially interesting while playing this game. Weather can be a common mechanic when trying to convey a certain kind of emotion (how many times have we seen sad scenes in movies with rain?), but in Old Man’s Journey, the puzzles and terrain also rose in difficultly, reflecting the troubled memories the old man was also recounting at the time. It starts out with smooth hills and plains and transitions into abandoned territory with rubble and frequent waterfalls blocking your path. Additional obstacles such as sheep and walls made the path less straightforward and more treacherous for the old man. The underwater segment felt especially meaningful after experiencing the emotional journey, serving as a form of revelation for the player, who has seen this man’s dream change as he realized what was truly important to him.
Old Man’s Journey is a short and sweet game that can be appreciated for its environmental storytelling, its beautiful visuals, and lovely soundtrack. Broken Rules was able to convey exactly the story they wanted to tell in the world they created, and I’m looking forward to see what else they come up with!