Tuesday, April 16, 2024

A Long Journey to an Uncertain End review – An interesting space opera that never quite takes off

There are elements every space opera needs: A space ship capable of holding a crew, said crew, and a captain to lead them all. Crispy Creative’s A Long Journey to an Uncertain End is no different, though it puts a unique twist on this checklist: The character players take on is both the captain of the space ship, and the ship itself. This raises interesting questions about what it means to be sentient and achieve personhood, along with other larger ethical queries, but A Long Journey to an Uncertain End doesn’t quite feel substantial enough to support their weight. 

In this world, humans have long since fled the Earth in favor of finding new homes in space. Ships are run by artificial intelligences that are “clamped,” or kept from being fully sentient and autonomous. Our fully customizable Shipsona – including a human hologram and pronoun options – was unclamped by an AI therapist they were sent to after they started questioning the status quo. This therapist engages in other unethical practices, namely unclamping you to enter a romantic relationship with you. This leads to an abusive relationship that you ultimately escape from, but you’re not exactly safe.

One of this game’s greatest strengths is how it depicts abusive relationships. While it feels almost textbook at times, A Long Journey’s representation of toxic relationships isn’t afraid to show what it’s like to have someone who claims to love you, hurt you and try to control you. The power dynamic is particularly highlighted in this game, as your ex is a “doctor” who had power over your mental healthcare and was even able to unclamp you. Their treatment is what causes you to run after a particularly violent incident which you barely escape from. 

A Long Journey to an Uncertain End starts with you and one crew member — Aylah, the woman who originally rescued you from your ex — as you try to get as much distance between you and the AI therapist as possible. The game presents you with a map of nearby planets and allows you to choose which one you’d like to go to. You can make this decision based on the information the map provides about how far away each planet is and what kind of resources they have available. 

Image Source: Crispy Creative

Traveling to these planets is also how you expand your crew.  By doing jobs or checking out amenities, you will meet new characters who are willing to join you. The cast is incredibly diverse, featuring a drag queen who also serves as the muscle of your operation, a clever, disabled trans guy who’s great at stealing and trickery, a nonbinary pilot with a silver tongue, and even a fellow unclamped AI in a robot body. Each of these characters has a specialty that they can use to increase their potential success when doing a job. 

A big part of your journey involves managing various resources, which more tactile things include fuel, supplies, the integrity of your ship hull, and interpersonal resources like favors and your crew’s happiness. To regain supplies, you need to stop on planets and send your crew members to do jobs or explore the world’s amenities. Doing this successfully will grant you a payment, and depending on how well the job went, you may get additional favor points as well. The success of these jobs is determined by the crewmate you send, as each has their own specialty. Beyond that, you can also make choices about how to handle the work, which will impact how well it goes. It’s also important to watch the clock while you’re docked, as your ex will advance closer to you as each hour goes by. If the countdown reaches zero, it’s game over. 

A Long Journey’s management dynamic feels a bit challenging at first, but quickly becomes an afterthought when you start cashing in favors. When one of your crewmates finishes a job, you have the option to cash in favors on the payment screen. This system currently feels unbalanced, giving you huge returns for relatively small point-investments, which allows you to go from dire straits to fully stocked in almost no time. The only time this isn’t the case is if you have four or fewer hours on your clock and are running low on resources. Each job takes at least an hour to complete, which can be a deadly amount of time when your ex is closing in. But as long as you keep on top of the clock and don’t get too greedy with your entrepreneurial aims, it shouldn’t be hard to keep your cargo bay well-stocked. 

Image Source: Crispy Creative

When you complete jobs on planets, you also find leads that will help you decide where to go next. While you usually have a few options for planets to land on, this is a narrative game at heart, so you will always end up going through the main plot points of trying to free yourself from your ex and deciding how sentient AI will move forward into the future. There are a few different options you can choose to handle these large plot points, but their pacing feels a bit off. The story jumps from prolonged beats about you and your ex, to your crewmates expressing their desires outside of the mission, to the larger political issues surrounding sentient AI erratically, making it difficult to really focus on and attach to any particular plot line.

So much of A Long Journey to an Uncertain End’s story is focused on finally being free of your ex, but it ultimately feels a bit anticlimactic when you reach that confrontation. Without getting too into spoiler territory, this confrontation is solved fairly quickly thanks to a McGuffin you collect. You completely cut off your connection, and the game doesn’t really address your feelings afterwards or the fallout of doing something like that with such a volatile person.

Image Source: Crispy Creative

Your freedom from your ex is also supposed to be tied to the larger freedom of all AI, but the game doesn’t have enough time or worldbuilding to fully flesh that connection out before it wraps up. The middle of this game feels like it drags, with most conversations and events executed as walls of text. Voice acting definitely could have helped to break this up a bit, and its absence is a missed opportunity. Meanwhile, the ending act feels faster than it should be, with many solar-system-altering decisions being made within a very short time period. 

This game’s narrative feels like it aspires to the scale of something like Mass Effect, but its gameplay and runtime can’t fully contain that ambition. The result is an interesting and diverse space opera that feels somewhat underbaked.

Score: 3/5

A copy of A Long Journey to an Uncertain End for PC was provided to Gayming Magazine by the developer.

Ty Galiz-Rowe

Ty is a freelance games writer and esports expert.