5:00pm // 4.21.2024

One of the most appealing things about video games is their ability to place you in the direct role of a player avatar. You act as a physical being in the world. You don't simply control a character - you are that character. Games that are able to decrease the separation between the avatar and the player are usually the most interesting games that the medium has to offer. Take titles like Metal Gear Solid, for example. The entire series does this to great effect, possibly reaching its culmination in the disorienting MGS V with its brilliant "shadow story" evident only for players paying attention.

One of the many lovely sights you'll see.

FPS games are perhaps have it the easiest when it comes to shortening the distance between player and avatar. I mean, its the closest you get to the perspective that you see every day and you usually directly interact with the game world and the elements around you. Mechanics are less abstract than what you might see in an RPG, for example. You aim, you shoot, you open doors, you speak with people, etc, etc. Basically, FPS games are ripe for atmospheric, immersive games that try to bring new things to the table. This is a long-winded way of saying that Northern Journey does this, does it well, and is worth your time and investment.

Northern Journey: A Primer

You're out in the sea when your boat starts to sink. Crap. Best start trying to make you way over to the nearest island and hope to God that people are there. Or, at the very least, food and water. Huh, why is there a weird flute player asking you to do stuff? Why is the village priest so creepy? What is that idiot's worm thing? That doesn't look like anything you've seen before. Oh no, you're not getting off of this God-forsaken rock anytime soon. Whelp, best help teleporting flute guy and his messenger crow get back all the dimensional violators and magical items that the village idiot lost across the island! I mean, you've got nothing else better to do and flute guy seems like he might not be happy if you go against his wishes.

This is basically the premise of Northern Journey. You get stranded on an island and, with the promise of helping you start back on your journey, you assist an enigmatic flute player in his attempt to locate a series of magic items that are causing all sorts of problems for the villagefolk and island at large. you'll meet some other quirky characters along your way, but your primary way of interacting with the world is through exploration and combat. Let's start with the former, which is the most compelling part of the experience.

I'm sure he's a trustworthy fellow!


The closest thing I could compare the feeling of Northern Journey to is Lord of the Rings. While it does deal with themes around European folk-lore and imagery like LOTR, that's not really what I mean. What is the same is the feeling of a person out of sorts in various locales where nature itself conspires against you. Verdant green environments followed by ice-capped mountains and even a place reminiscent of Mount Doom! Combine the wonderful locales with the soundtrack, and you have a brilliant atmosphere to get lost in.

Of course, the thing that really carries the atmosphere is the visual aesthetic. It sort of goes for an early 2000s look, with graphics that might be reminiscent of the early Source Engine games or a highly modified version of Quake 2 or something. Needless to say, it's gorgeous. Dark, dank, mysterious, colorful, cold - whatever it needs to be, it captures it. At many points, I found myself just appreciating my ability to traverse the levels and appreciate the work that clearly went into the art direction. In this sense, it greatly reminded me of something like Death Stranding where you want to explore and go over the hill just because you can. You're frequently rewarded for doing so as well, with health and capacity upgrades carefully hidden. Supposedly there's a weapon upgrade or two, although I was unable to find them on my playthrough.

I know this place hates me, but it sure is cozy!

You don't just get to run and jump around either. There are plenty of mechanical contraptions to facilitate your exploration. Pulleys and winches power wooden elevators that take you through different levels. You'll eventually get a handheld winch that allows you to take advantage of the many ropes around, giving you a new means to navigate the environment and see old levels from new angles. There's even a few segments where you get to go underwater with some frightening looking contraptions. Frightening, at least, if you don't want a great heap of metal over your head if you're in a lake with some sort of creature from beyond! You even get to fly at one point. Just be sure not to crash head first into the craggy rock below and you'll be fine.


At your disposal are a number of varied weapons, each with their own quirks and caveats. Oh, and all of them are projectile based and almost all of them have limited ammunition. So don't expect to be going around chopping stuff up with a sword. Instead, you can expect to throw them at the many enemies! The starter weapon (which mericfully has unlimited ammo) perhaps best sums up what you can expect from all the weapons in the game. It's a slingshot that gets stronger the longer you spin it. Less than three spins around your head and it's not likely to do much of anything, but once you hit three, it's capable of one shotting a lot of the weaker enemies. The weapon also has the added caveat of range. You've got to be careful to consider the drop off of your shots and how far away the enemy is. Your crosshair is sort of teardrop shaped, which helps a little bit with determining where to aim, but you really just have to pick it up via intuition.

Contrary to what you might think, combat isn't actually that janky. Sure, there are some weird moments where you get surrounded by enemies that devour your health in seconds or you fall off the map due to some slightly weird collision. But largely, combat is fun and engaging. It's never especially hard, but there are some challenging encounters. In particular, one of the final bosses has you fight on a narrow platform off of a cliff against your flying opponent. You're unable to abuse some of the "tricks" that may have worked in the past as one drop means you plummet to your death. Some of those abusable tricks can take you out of the game at parts. Especially in some of the early areas where if you leave an enemy's radius, it will simply run off and let you attack it from afar. However, as the game goes on, it gets harder and harder to pull moves like that off. Especially as you begin to encounter more varied foes.

Thin bridges! It's a miracle these things stay up in this weather.

There are something like 50 varieties of enemies and bosses throughout the game, most of which attack in quite different manners. Many are based on some sort of creature you might expect to find in a forest - bears, bugs, deer, trolls. Wait, what was that last one? They range from the mundane to the otherworldly, but only a handful are especially annoying to fight against. They usually represent a fun challenge that force you to switch up your arsenal to dispatch. One encounter is particularly unsettling, as you get swarmed by creepily animated spiders. The first time you see these things, they are legitimately a bit frightening and I panicked before realizing that the repeating crossbow could dispatch them with ease. But not before getting surrounded by dozens of them! Most engagements have that kind of energy, as the high variety of creatures means that each area has its own unique flavor that requires you to play differently.

I'm sure he won't bite :-)

Why play it

Play Northern Journey if you want to be lost in a pretty, yet hostile and unfamiliar environment. If getting to contend with malicious spirits, witches, and all manner of creepy crawlers appeals to you. If unique "gunplay" with a variety of unique weapons titillates you. I know I enjoyed my time with the game and I think it is likely to appeal to anyone looking for an experience that is mechanically familiar, yet goes against so many of the current trends. It looks like an old game, but doesn't try to be a "boomer" shooter. It's linear and focused, but not short or restrictive. Virtually everything it sets out to do, it does well. A pretty impressive accomplishment for a game made by a solo dev. So solo that the credits just consist of a thank you to some friends, family, and the kids he works with. Well worth a purchase and well worth your support. I'm looking forward to whatever the dev plans to do next.

Andro's Verdict
Highs: Picturesque and atmospheric environments. Fun combat.
Lows: Occasional jankiness. Ugly HUD elements.
Bottom Line: A great experience from beginning to end - all killer, no filler.
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