The Journey Down: Chapter Two
Reviewed on: PC
Price: $19.99 USD
For fans of: Grim Fandango or the thought of a West-African inspired Caribbean noir adventure.
*This review is notably shorter than Chapter One’s, simply because I didn’t want to spend more time than necessary repeating myself on gameplay elements and influence, and wanted to avoid spoiling the all-important narrative expected from a sequel.
When I reviewed The Journey Down’s opening chapter a few weeks ago, my primary takeaway was that it had all the makings of a point-and-click classic but lacked any form of actual adventure. Its West-African influence could be felt deep within its character design and the late Simon D’souza’s beautiful composition, but Chapter One’s bite-sized run-time, inconsistent voice-over quality, and never-ending fetch quest certainly hindered my overall enjoyment.
I’m happy to report that Chapter Two wholly improves upon its predecessor in every regard. It’s twice as long, allowing for more character engagement and world building. There’s more variety in the backdrops, though most of the game is still spent exploring dimly lit alleys. D’souza’s jazz, funk, and reggae tunes continue to elevate the experience to a higher level, eliciting the perfect emotion given the backdrop or circumstance. Voice-over fidelity has also improved tenfold, Port Artue’s inhabitants are far more interesting to converse with, and there’s an actual adventure taking place with sky pirates, murder, conspiracy, shootouts, and jailbreaks!
This is what I wanted from The Journey Down.
Chapter Two picks up immediately after Bwana and company crash their charter plane into the mist at the end of Chapter One. They’re rescued by the eel trawling vessel M.S. Biko, whose crew members warn of bloodthirsty pirates and monstrous eels. The Biko has been lost in the mist due to Port Artue’s lighthouse being out, but, after some clever adventuring, Bwana leads them to safety and is promptly thrown in jail by Detective Barlow. What’s more, Lina is taken into custody and The Journal of the Journey Down has been confiscated. Bwana and Kito must escape their holding cell, rescue Lina, recover the Journal, and make it out of Port Artue alive, but even the best-laid plans always sound easier on paper.
There’s definitely a lot more going on from a narrative perspective, with the entirety of the game taking place across many different adventurous slices. Where Bwana was the game’s only shining star before, Chapter Two introduces us to a Dolemite-inspired cab driver, a gritty detective with seemingly corrupt motives, a menacing sky pirate, and doubles down on the organizations all wanting a piece of The Journal of the Journey Down.
Similar to the game’s inaugural chapter, you’ll click around various scenes, exploring for useable items and conversing with NPCs to further the plot. Port Artue continues to play on the Caribbean noir theme of Chapter One and certainly has more to explore than Kingsport Bay. Dimly lit alleys lead into dive bars, ritzy clubs for the one-percenters, and movie theatres, but the city itself is broken up by its harbor, a lighthouse, and a steel mill. The Journey Down: Chapter Two reuses many of the same color palettes, which caused some of its backdrops to feel a bit too familiar after a while, but the hand-drawn aesthetic never overstayed its welcome.
Puzzle solving isn’t nearly as “video gamey” this time around (no more crafting ladders from stale breadsticks), though there were a few notably absurd solutions and trickier bits that stalled my progress. Since most of the game is figuratively broken down into scenarios, backtracking never felt taxing and whatever I needed to progress was always within reach.
The experience as a whole is one adventure after another and it had me hungry for more when the credits began to roll, but I think the game’s final two scenes should have been reversed. This is a hard feeling to explain without spoiling anything, but it seemed as if the ending played before the last big puzzle when it would have furthered my excitement for the game’s final chapter had it been the other way around. That’s just the world revolving around me, I guess, but that’s what a review is.
As a fan of classic point-and-clicks, I don’t go into them expecting a leisurely stroll. I like being challenged to think outside the box, to exhaust dialogue options, enjoy the story, and pixel hunt my way around town. The Journey Down: Chapter Two is the perfect balance of challenge, character, adventure, and narrative, and if Chapter One failed to hook you, I implore you to give it another chance. The cash out is well worth it, and Simon D’souza’s composition alongside Straight No Chaser is absolutely phenomenal.
The only hold-up I can see is the game’s pricing, which is $19.99 USD for just the second chapter, or $39.99 USD for the trilogy bundled together on Steam. Cost affects everyone differently, and while it does seem a little steep when compared to other episodic adventure games, I’ll leave this argument up to you folks. I was given the game for free to review, after all, so I’m in no position to discuss pricing.
Chapter One of The Journey Down wasn’t bad by any means, it just felt lacking in the important areas; a feeling that has only increased exponentially after playing this far superior offering. Perhaps that gave Chapter Two a heavier impact? Who knows. What I do know is that Chapter Two is four hours of drastically improved, brilliant adventuring and I can’t wait to see how Bwana’s story concludes in Chapter Three.
So, where’s the final score? There isn’t one. I spent a lot of time conveying my opinion in the above text, and I hope that’s worth more to you than some arbitrary number or a sequence of shaded-in star shapes. Basically, I’m not a fan of scores so I no longer use them. Read the review and judge for yourself if the game is worth your time and money. I trust in your ability to make the right decision!
Full disclosure: This review was done using a Steam key provided by the game’s developer, Skygoblin. While I’m sometimes given games to critique, I pride myself on providing an unbiased review to fellow consumers, along with constructive feedback to hard working developers and publishers. Whether or not I pay for a game is irrelevant.