At this moment in time, I am deep into those games that I promised to complete after the Christmas rush. While I adore playing Halo Infinite and Forza Horizon 5, there is nothing in there that is able to surprise me. I could be burned at the stake here, but they are just more of the same; a bit shinier, a bit better mechanically, and delivered with a few more features. There are plenty of other games in the market though, and generally I love playing the smaller indie titles; games with lower budgets, smaller teams, yet will happily take some risks. People of the jury, I present to you The Longest Road on Earth.
The Longest Road on Earth is a game created by Brainwash Gang and TLR Games who are a bunch of underground Spanish developers focused on creating interesting games. Their mantra is to make games that are about human emotions and experiences, rather than genre and game mechanics. They deal with the fact that people might not consider the end product to be a “game”, at least not in the normal way of looking at things. But as Beícoli – the brilliant composer behind this – says “if it’s not a game, then…I don’t know what it is”.
The game is a series of four short stories linked by a central theme as the device for telling these tales. The narratives are all wordless, told through the visuals and the amazing soundtrack on offer. None of them are particularly heavy with dramatic tension or points of trauma in the conventional sense but instead they are about the mundane, the ordinary, and the day-to-day. For me, that’s what makes it interesting, at times, completely beautiful.
All the characters found here are animals in some shape or form, but completely humanised with clothes and jobs. In terms of setting, there is a sense of 1960’s middle America, but it’s never that clear or obvious. The central holding form sees an old man getting up for work and opening a shop full of items to sell; items like clocks and typewriters. It’s these items in the shop which will trigger one of the short stories. We see one about a woman working in a diner, as it covers loss and ambition. Another shows a man’s working life in the city. The third story follows two workers on the docks, their lives running in parallel, whilst the last sees a figure progress in snapshots – from a baby in a cot, through childhood and eventually ending in adulthood.
All these stories have a beginning, middle, and end, but there isn’t anything major that happens at any point in these narrative arcs. In fact, in one you are journeying on a train for a while, all without anything occurring. In another, you are placing bottle tops on soda bottles in a factory. One character works out, another child plays with toys, with a cardboard backdrop of adventure. These moments I found poignant at times and it ensures that The Longest Road on Earth is one of the best comments of life and our mortality, much more than many other stories I have heard.
The gameplay elements are pretty simple and rarely require much action. You move your characters left and right across the 2D world in front of you. There isn’t a run button and it’s very slow going at times, but that I think is the whole point of the game. You will get instructions on-screen, requesting that you press a button that will start an action on a new scene or will cut to what you are looking at. Sometimes there are more “gamey’ sections where you are having to press the button longer to do sit-ups for example. There’s also a section where you are fighting with toys and it’s all about hitting the button at the right time. But overall it’s a pretty simple system that powers The Longest Road on Earth.
The visuals of the game employ a real old-school pixel art form, one that I found stunning at times. The designers know the format well and craft a fantastic world out of these tools. The opening credit sequence – an aerial view of the countryside, slowly moving forwards – sets the tone beautifully. There isn’t any voice-over, but a haunting number of original songs play out over the course of the whole game. It’s like listening to an album of a favourite band and it works perfectly with the settings. I can’t imagine anything else taking its place. Admittedly though, if you are not a fan of the music then this might affect your viewpoint, as it’s such an essential ingredient.
The Longest Road on Earth is thoroughly enjoyable; an experience that is capable of sincerely touching the player. The music is wonderful and the whole journey a delight. Granted, many may struggle with the lack of action and others will find the undramatic nature of the narrative hard to take, but there’s a good chance that if you give The Longest Road on Earth a chance, it’s one that you will really like.
The Longest Road on Earth is available from the Xbox Store from Jan 27th 2022