A short trip to the afterlife.
Journey For Elysium

For the past several months now, we have offered up glimpses of the story-driven VR adventure title Journey for Elysium. We saw a game that had a unique visual style, the promise of a story that would take us all to an afterlife, a world filled with architecture inspired by Greek mythology, and mind-bending puzzles to solve. The unique visual style was certainly eye catching, but I often wondered if the rest of the game would be able to hold up to this aesthetically pleasing presentation.

With the release of Journey for Elysium having hit on All Hallows' Eve (October 31, 2019), I can now say that the game's visuals and presentation are the best part about it. Though not a bad game by any means, it feels as though the gameplay itself takes a backseat to the art. Take away the often-unsettling yet awe-inspiring environments and you are left with a decent story and a simple puzzle game that then holds your hand a bit too much for my liking.

I will not beat around the bush here: The puzzles are very easily solvable. They are perhaps a bit too easy. Given that this is a game that seems to have just two hooks (a unique visual style and puzzle solving), it is very disappointing that the actual gameplay part of it just fails to deliver anything meaningful to the total experience.

Journey for Elysium

While the game's environments are presented in greyscale, important objects and things you can interact with appear with a dazzling golden shimmer. This also includes items that you need to find in order to solve most of the game's puzzles. A lot of the challenge that these puzzles may have offered were thrown out the window when important pieces are visible right from the get-go. At least the gold set against the grey environments makes for some nice eye candy.

The good news here is that not every puzzle is quite so straightforward. A few puzzles task you with climbing up ancient statues or lighting up torches with some well-placed arrow shots. These are the types of experiences that manage to sell me on this being a VR game worth checking out. Sadly, these are also the experiences that are just too rare in Journey for Elysium.

On top of this, the overall length of this journey through the Underworld is short. You will be able to complete this game in about two hours. This figure includes any added time you may use to explore the gorgeous environments. However, priced at about $20, it is difficult to recommend without hesitation a game that is more of a short, virtual tour than an engaging game.

As a pure VR experience, Journey for Elysium does get a number of things right. The game offers both smooth locomotion and teleporting options for player movement. I also had no problems with the game in either a seated or standing position. Getting from puzzle to puzzle typically involved the use of a rowboat. Developer Mantis really nailed the virtual rowing mechanics down. The rowing movement felt comfortable on my Oculus Rift and Touch controllers. You can even push your boat away from rocks should you venture too close. These rowing sections give you time to take in the sights as well as listen to small bits of story narration.

Journey for Elysium

Ultimately, Journey for Elysium feels like a game that had puzzles shoehorned in to a virtual tour to make it an easier sell to those who have a dislike for all things "walking simulator." Sadly, I feel as though if you took away most of the puzzles the game would not have lost anything of actual substance. The experience would have been largely the same, albeit a slight bit shorter.

I actually would have preferred if the game was a pure "walking simulator" full of gorgeous vistas that told a story as you explored the lands on foot or by rowboat. I do wonder if the game would have felt more fulfilling if the time and effort that went into the puzzles were instead put towards fleshing out the exploration aspect. I suppose the same could be said about the inverse: If the game would have been a more complete package if more time was spent on creating challenging puzzles at the expense of sacrificing elements of the beautiful world.

We obviously do not have answers to those hypotheticals. What we do have is a game that does not quite offer enough challenge for puzzle fanatics while also being a game that doesn't quite offer enough pure exploration for fans of "walking sims." I do find myself at a crossroads here because I like both "walking sims" and puzzle games. Sadly, Journey for Elysium satisfied neither of those itches in any meaningful way once the story came to an end. Nothing about Journey for Elysium does is "bad" in any sense, but it certainly doesn't excel in any capacity either.

3 out of 5

Additional Information
Journey for Elysium - Developed by Mantis, Published by Cronos Interactive
Available starting at $19.99 via Steam
Game was Reviewed On: PC VR (Oculus Rift with Oculus Touch). HTC Vive and Valve Index can also be used.
Hardware used: i7-6700K at 4.5GHz, 32GB DDR4-2666, Nvidia GTX 1080 Ti, Windows 10 64-bit Version 1903, Oculus Rift, Oculus Touch
Rated T for Teen

This game was provided to Total Gaming Network for review purposes.