Away: Journey to the Unexpected

Platform(s): Nintendo Switch, PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Dear Villagers
Developer: Aurelien Regard
Release Date: Feb. 13, 2019


PC Review - 'Away: Journey to the Unexpected'

by Cody Medellin on Aug. 12, 2019 @ 12:00 a.m. PDT

Away is a colorful first person adventure game that combines action and negotiation mixed in a rogue-lite environment!

Buy Away: Journey to the Unexpected

Most of the time, you run into a game and accept the genre that it has chosen for itself. An RPG is an RPG, a survival game is a survival game, and a big open-world game is just that, even if the games representing these genres may borrow elements from other titles every now and then. Very rarely do you encounter a game and wish it occupied a different genre altogether in the hopes that the experience will be better, but that's the issue with Away: Journey to the Unexpected.

In Away, you play a teenager living with his grandparents while your parents are off on a secretive job. One night, you awaken to a loud noise, and you discover that someone has broken down the basement walls. Armed with only a wooden stick, it's up to you to discover why your house was partially destroyed.

The story quickly gets weird thanks to the involvement of a construction company and aliens, but the ancillary characters really push the strangeness. The inhabitants of the house include grandparents who don't seem to mind what's going on, a frog swimming in a toilet, a dog whose woofs can be understood, and a psychic cat. Go further, and you'll find other eccentric characters like a drunk talking tree, another inebriated character that may or may not be a wizard, and an overly excited shopkeeper. It is an oddball cast to say the least, but with so few games willing to run with this type of thing, the cast becomes a welcome part of the title.

Aside from the oddball characters and story, the first thing players will notice about the title is its graphics. To sum it up, they're gorgeous. The characters and monsters look like they come from an anime, and the decision to keep them as flat 2D polygons instead of fleshing them out retains that look and makes every creature seem cute. The environments look wonderful thanks to a deep color scheme that fits the anime aesthetic without resorting to thick black lines. Particle effects are abundant, so even though it can be distracting during combat — explosions can obscure some enemies — it still looks nice. The one issue you'll encounter often is the unstable frame rate when you exit a dungeon and move into the overworld. There are 10 seconds of choppiness before things revert to a more solid 60fps, but since the game isn't very resource-intensive otherwise, it's disappointing to see this occur.

By contrast, the audio feels almost absent because nothing stands out. The music is fine, but it's more noticeable since there are no voices at all. The sound effects are also present but lack any sort of punch to make them good. About the only sound you'll pay attention to is the alert sound that lets you know that an enemy has spotted you. Even then, it'll play so often that you'll tune that out as well.

The game adopts a first-person perspective, which will initially make players believe that this is a shooter. While various characters let you deploy projectile-based attacks, your main character only has a stick to work with, and this is where the gameplay problems begin. The stick is a decent weapon, but its attack range is difficult to gauge. The stick can seemingly work at a distance, but attack up close, and you and the enemy will always trade blows. There is an ever-present aiming reticle, but the color change from harmless to effective hits is so quick that paying attention to it always results in you taking damage. Your best strategy is to attack simultaneously backing away, the exact opposite of how melee attacks work in other first-person perspective games. The issue rings true not just for the stick but all melee weapon attacks, and it's a big but manageable problem since you're forced to deal with it most of the time.

Work this out, and you can deal with how the rest of the game plays out. Essentially, you go from area to area, delving into three dungeons to activate switches for the barrier to the main dungeon. Go into the main dungeon, defeat the boss, and repeat the process in the newly discovered area. Along the way, you collect coins to pay the shopkeeper for items, but the most important item is the friendship cube. With at least one of these cubes in your inventory, you can talk to certain people in the world, and if you navigate their dialogue trees correctly, they become part of your party. Aesthetically, switching to them gives you a new viewpoint, such as shattered glasses or a sepia tone. More importantly, taking control of these characters gives you completely new attacks. The attacks use up energy, and if they run out of energy, you revert to your main character with a stick.

The setup works well enough, especially since you can get some interesting dialogue out of potential teammates, but there are a few things that don't work too well. For starters, almost all of the enemies are kind of dumb. As soon as an enemy sees you, all they do is move toward you with no regard for their own well-being. Only bosses have different attack patterns, but that's faint praise since some of those fights, like the spider boss, are more reliant on random chance rather than actual tactics.

Like the enemies, the environments may look varied, but that isn't reflected in the design. Each of the overworld environments are decently sized but don't have much in the way of exploration. Except for a few hills here and there with coins, there isn't much to do but go to the dungeons. The dungeons themselves are mostly randomized, but the variations are quite small, so you'll see the same parts get reused quite often.

The sticking point for Away is that it is a roguelike. Aside from the aforementioned randomized dungeons, dying in the game means that you have to restart your journey from the beginning. You have the benefit of leveling up after dying, so your next run can equip you with more attacks or more health, but friendship cubes and allies have to be obtained all over again.

As alluded to in the beginning of the review, the game doesn't feel well suited for its genre. You don't lose anything upon death, which is usually the case in roguelikes. All of the coins you have when you died are still there, and the same goes for any throwable weapons. Allies and dungeons are always in the same spot, and you don't have to go down dialogue trees to get those people back. The roguelike element feels like a way to pad out the game, and even though the experience would be rather short otherwise, it would feel much better if it were a standard adventure instead.

Even if Away: Journey to the Unexpected weren't a roguelike, it still has issues that would put it in mediocre territory. The main melee combat would be awful, the level designs would be boring, and the boss fights wouldn't be exciting. While some people may be fine with that, the forced repetitive nature of the roguelike makes Away feel unnecessarily padded, especially since parts of the title are too forgiving for the genre. It may look nice most of the time, and the story is so off the wall that it's endearing, but Away should only be on your radar if you can purchase it on sale and don't mind its baggage.

Score: 5.5/10

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