Adventure games have had sort of a spotty history. Early ones, like the SierraQuest series and many of the Lucasarts games, are considered true gaming classics. But as time went on, the clever puzzles and witty dialogue were replaced with full FMV scenes and spoken words. Although not all adventure games with this "new technology" were ruined by this onset (case in point: Gabriel Knight 2), others were harmed immensely (like King's Quest 7) .
The action/adventure wave didn't help much either, making people think of such games as King's Quest 8 and Tomb Raider when they heard the word "adventure." The Longest Journeyhearkens back to an age of simple puzzle solving, clever speech and beautiful, atmospheric graphics which don't require the latest video cards to run.
You're April Ryan, a regular girl vying for a position in an art college. In a twist of fate, you discover that a world of magic and mystery called Arcadia exists parallel to our own (called Stark). With the help of a very diverse cast, it falls on your shoulders to save the world (as always).
For those of you who've played recent adventure games like Escape from Monkey Island, the interface will look familiar. You use a point-and-click system to interact with the world. When you click on an object, you can select if you want to look at it, use it, or speak to it (or eat it, if you're so inclined). The right click brings up an inventory, where you can combine and toy with the items you hold. This interface takes barely any time to get used to and becomes more intuitive as time goes on. Most importantly, it never gets in the way of the game.
As is standard these days, the game uses 3D characters overlaid on 2D pre-rendered backgrounds. Every background is beautifully rendered, from the idyllic forest scenes to dirty back alleys, and preserves the atmosphere of the game amazingly. Top that with some spectacular cutscenes that meld almost invisibly with the game itself and you wind up with a very pretty picture.
Although the game is one of the prettiest of its kind, it really shines when it comes down to the story. Although my glib summary of the plotline may make it seem like another simple "save the world" affair, it really is anything but. The characters are so well created and seem so realistic that the incredulous events of the story seem to be that much more real. Your experiences in Arcadia involve many Tolkienesque creatures such as cute mole-people, the Alatien (a race of strange winged creatures) and the Venar (who have no notion of the past or future). Each of these races has their own culture, history, and behavior, which really fills out the story.
The dialogue is simply some of the best around. It sounds real. It's difficult to describe, but the things that people say are almost exactly the things you'd expect them to say. This is especially true of the main character April. Her fairly normal life is shattered by all sorts of unbelievable, fantastic experiences. You can tell by the way she speaks and acts that she never quite copes with what's around her, giving The Longest Journey a believable, gritty realism that's so often lacking in adventure gaming.
The voice acting is very appropriate and lifts the quality of the game. Although you'll find the standard comic relief, most of the characters have very non-stereotypical voice types and often cover a range of emotions. April's voice personifies an insecure teenager and has the depth to take her through all the twists and turns of the game. There's lots of improvisation going on as well, probably most apparent in Burns Flipper, a hilarious psycho hacker.
The game is also pleasing aurally. There isn't that much music (except in cutscenes) but every area has an ambient soundtrack. From birds in a forest to congested traffic, the background sound makes the scene seem that much more real.
The Longest Journey is a masterful adventure game. Although not incredibly impressive technologically, it encapsulates all the elements of a good adventure and is an absolute must-have for any adventure gamers out there.