Voyage started life as a mobile narrative adventure game and it has design elements that don’t always feel best suited to playing with a gamepad on a couch. That said, it has the potential to provide a compelling narrative and impressive audiovisual experience (there will be many screenshots), especially for those after a more sedately-paced journey.
There’s no need for words
Voyage is a completely wordless experience, aside from the occasional grunts of effort by the pair of protagonists and the hazy, unintelligible babble of the alien race they sometimes encounter. All you know for certain is that the distinctly human-looking pair you control have found themselves on an alien planet.
Who are the protagonists and what is the nature of their relationship? Who are the translucent bipedal aliens that they encounter? Are the aliens actually there or just some echo of an ancient civilisation? What’s up with the glowing, electrically-charge stones you find all over? Why are they being led by a glowing, fox-like creature that frequently teleports them to another dimension where they must reassemble ancient statues that reflect their current location?!
The lack of context or fine details may have been an issue in a longer game, but Voyage is over before your brain starts arguing. The ending sequence and final cutscene reinforce the sci-fi elements and ground some encounters in reality, but Voyage still leaves you to fill in many gaps. It’s a surprisingly effective approach that left me more satisfied with the ending than most big-budget adventures that run out of steam by the end.
It’s not exactly a walking sim…
Voyage, despite its limited mechanics, is not like a traditional walking sim. Yes, you’re funnelled into unavoidable encounters and cutscenes, but it still plays more like a 2D adventure game of yore – think Another World or Flashback, just without the frustrating deaths.
The controls are pleasingly simple: you move left and right; an action button allows you to hold and drag objects, activate switches, or help your partner; while another button switches between the pair to solve some puzzles – if you’re not playing in co-op. There’s also a button that’ll immediately highlight important objects or locations with a satisfying tingle.
Unfortunately Voyage – like so many narrative-heavy, gameplay-lite titles – still manages to drag things out at times. The walking speed is slow but, most of the time, you’ll be engaged in a succession of brisk interactions like pushing switches, toppling ruins, and clambering about. Other times, you’ll find yourself shoving an object in one direction for a few minutes or navigating an arbitrarily maze-like spaceship. Needless to say, Voyage is not a game to play when you’re tired. That said, Voyage’s brisk run-time is its saving grace as no puzzle element is repeated more than 2-3 times before you hit the finale.
Playing coop is recommended but never feels essential as the gameplay mechanics are limited and the AI does a perfect job of responding when needed. Think of it as an opportunity to thrash out some ideas about what’s going on, or to introduce a new gamer to the hobby with a sedate, low-risk experience.
As a final point, for the trophy- and achievement-hunters out there, the limited mechanics and linear structure mean Voyage offers up its entire quota in a single short run.
Give me stylised 2D pixel art over photorealistic 3D visuals any day
I typically forgive rough visuals so long as the narrative or gameplay provides a compelling hook. In the case of Voyage, they’re an essential part of the experience – designed to create a sense of alien wonder and emotional interactions. The backgrounds are staggeringly detailed and often rely on contrasting colours or light sources to emphasise important objects or the path forward.
Character shadows and reflections ground the pair in the world but the most impactful visual element is the beautiful animations for traversal, swaying foliage, water bodies, collapsing objects or scenery, and simple gestures like a hug (which you can trigger at any time). These detailed animations have relatively few frames but they look incredible and stand out against static backdrop elements.
In the absence of words, the thick ambience and excellent soundtrack manage to inject both life and emotion into many scenarios. Voyage is not loud and never uses noise to startle you, rather, the music and ambience transition smoothly between locations. It rises and falls as the scenario requires, shifting the mood from exhilarating, to pensive, to tense, and back again.
It’s not perfect, however. From a gameplay perspective, there were a few times – particularly in dark areas – where it was difficult to spot climbing spots or switches. I was never stuck for long but there were a few button-mashing moments as I brute-forced my way ahead.
Make the story your own
As much as I enjoyed my time, Voyage is probably going to be a hard sell as a 2-hour audiovisual experience – even with a relatively low price point. It’s a slow-burn narrative that pays off in the final moments, and the presentation is incredible. However, the gameplay experience is both limited and dragged out at times.
If you’re a fan of narrative adventure games with a lot to tell but relatively little to do, Voyage is a chilled but impactful experience. There are so many gaps you can fill in yourself and this makes it one of the best examples of the genre. On the other hand, if you enjoy more gameplay in your game, you may want to wait on a sale.
A review code for Voyage was provided to gameblur by the publisher.
Voyage (Xbox Series) ReviewVoyage (Xbox Series) Review
Audio8/10 Very Good
- A wordless story about companionship with blanks you can fill in yourself
- Captivating visuals
- Enchanting soundtrack
- The limited gameplay mechanics are not particularly engaging
- Several sequences feel padded out despite the short runtime