Away: Journey To The Unexpected is described as a feel good FPS, and whilst during the initial stages of play, that description has some weight to it, it doesn’t take long at all for the cracks to surface. The game throws you into the role of a kid that’s in search of his missing parents. The kid’s home is your hub, so to speak, with a series of doors and pathways that ultimately lead to some fantastical environments. The plot, the setup, and the premise, are not particularly all that interesting; serving merely as a basis for the adventure to exist.
The crux of play sees you starting out in your bedroom. Here, you have the freedom to explore your home, though, much of its rooms will be blocked off until later. This leaves you with a quick tour of the bathroom and the kitchen, in which there’s little here to do. The basement, on the other hand, is where your adventure truly begins. Upon visiting the basement, you’ll be greeted with two more pathways; Dessert Valley, and Forest Plains. Dessert Valley is also blocked off, leaving you with no other choice by the Forest Plains.
Once you make tracks, it’s here where the game showcases its functionality. To the game’s credit, it is quite an accessible adventure with some very easy to pick up on controls. Away: Journey to the Unexpected, as alluded to above, is a first-person adventure. When you begin the game, you’re given the main weapon that you’ll depend upon throughout; a wooden stick. You’ll attack through the use of RT, jump via tapping the A button, with the ability to run tethered to pushing in RS. The game does open up and progress is made.
Before long, you’ll have the ability to block, charge-attack, and more. You’ll also gradually earn more hearts (starting with just three) as you journey deeper into the game. The aim of the game is to complete a few tasks in each isolated area, before diving into the area’s dungeon and defeating its boss. The first area, for example, houses three small caves in which a lever is stationed in each. In order to open the dungeon door, you’ll need to activate these levers. Once you’ve done that, you’re free to set off in search of the boss.
There’s some innovation present here, being that each structure tends to be randomly generated upon entry, but nothing that’s going to blow your socks off. I found that upon even just a few runs in that area alone, I was met with the same inner structures, over and over again. I can say the same about the game’s other areas, including that of its dungeons. The point here is that although there is some random generation present, it’s far from in-depth enough to ensure that you’re constantly treated to new, interesting sights.
The reason that’s important to point out is that the game houses some minor elements of perma-death and rogue-lite mechanics. You see, whenever you die in Away: Journey To The Unexpected, you’ll be sent straight back to the beginning again, with only your gold, stars, XP, and unlocks carried over. Gold is littered everywhere throughout the game, making it quite easy to amass. You’ll find the bulk of it within the game’s environments, as well as in environmental chests, and chests that you’re rewarded for defeating the game’s bosses.
This gold can then be spent in the shop, allowing you to purchase health replenishment, more blocks (we’ll get to that shortly), and projectile weapons. There’s the odd NPC that will demand some gold before they’ll talk to you, but in truth, you’ll typically always have enough to spare. Most of the game’s enemies can be beaten with your trusty stick, and tend to vary in regards to how much of a beating they can take. Once you die, and before you’re taken back to your bedroom, a stat chart will present you with the summary of your run.
Here, you’ll see how much XP you’ve earned, as well as any of the few unlocks that are on offer. These unlocks range from the likes of increased health, charge-attacking, and so forth. You’ll also eventually earn the ability to bypass initial dungeons, cutting out that lever crap and getting you straight into the action. However, even this feels tiresome and bland before too long. This is due to a number of reasons. Firstly, the variation of its random generation isn’t very deep. Secondly, the lackluster enemy variants within are all far too samey-samey.
Then there’s the issue with the game’s combat and its handling. Combat in Away: Journey To The Unexpected amounts to little more than waving your stick around at a regular pace. You’ll see an enemy, approach said enemy, and bash it until its gone. I’ll commend the game for one thing, combat does show signs of improvement when using other characters. This draws us back to the blocks as mentioned above. Each of the game’s main areas houses a collection of NPCs for you to interact with. Many of these will join you, but there’s a twist.
In order to have an NPC join you, you’ll need to ensure that you’re in possession of a block. Typically, most areas have a block in the environment for you to pick up, and failing that, you can purchase them from the shop. Now, you’re halfway there. You need to take said block to an NPC. Here, you’ll then need to correctly answer their questions in order for them to join you. This wouldn’t be so bad if you had more than one chance to answer incorrectly, or indeed if there were some hints as to what the correct answers are, but sadly, you don’t.
What’s worse is that if you fail to answer their questions, you’ll be prevented from interacting with them again until you die and respawn. Should you be successful, however, they’ll join your side and you’ll then be able to swap between the kid, and whatever characters you’ve allied up with. Each character has a distinct method of combat; whether it’s the fire-casting wizard or the bramble-summoning tree, you’ll find useful scenarios in which to call them up for. It’s here in which the game’s combat tends to be more enjoyable.
I admittedly had quite a blast fighting against some of the game’s bosses whilst quick swapping between characters, but even so, it gets repetitive, quickly. You’re not able to use these additional characters for too long either, seeing as they all come with an energy bar that takes them out of the fight once it’s depleted. The kid’s stick is by far the worst addition as far as combat goes. It’s too difficult to correctly assess when you should swing it, being that if an enemy so much as touches you, you’ll end up losing health, very freaking quickly.
This only leads to a cat-and-mouse affair, in which you’ll whack a foe, move back, whack a foe, and move back. Try anything other than that, and you’re likely going to find the bedroom a lot sooner than you had hoped. This only gets more frustrating when you’re facing with multiple foes at once, and foes that can hit you at a great distance. Regardless, switching between characters does indeed alleviate this to some degree, thanks to how better they handle as far as combat is concerned, but it’s still counter intuitive all the same.
It doesn’t help matters that the charge-attack and the shield are about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. In fact, I found myself dying quickly when using them, in comparison to how long I could survive without them. Then there’s the handling. Away: Journey To The Unexpected doesn’t feel very precise at all. There’s a very floaty feeling to the movement and jumping, putting more strain and tension on the player during platforming sections. Several times did I miss a jump and find myself in danger because of this reason alone.
Moving on. Once you begin to work through the game, it does indeed open up a bit more and give some leeway. NPCs that you have already convinced to join you in previous runs will join you in successive runs without question. They’ll also increase your star rank as you bulk up your party. These stars allow you to visit other areas in the home, with most doors blocked behind a rank of some sort. Think Mario 64, but with much less depth, much less imagination, and much less quality. That, ladies and gents, is how this game functions.
There’s a few hours of play to be had overall, but I highly doubt anyone will have the endurance to make it through the adventure and keep their hair. The game’s several systems, although enticing on paper, don’t come together well in practice. The end result only ends up being a frustrating trek through the same linear path, fighting repetitive enemies whilst utilizing dull combat and traversal, over and over again. It’s a shame really, because if anything, Away: Journey To The Unexpected looks like a good game at face value.
The game’s core environments are well detailed and distinct, putting forward enough variation to ensure that your journey doesn’t feel too stale on a visual front. I especially enjoyed the game’s NPC and enemy design, relaying a sharp, vibrant, and cartoon-like design that feels instantly welcoming. Unfortunately, I cant say the same about the game’s audio design. Away: Journey To The Unexpected is chock-full of sloppy, generic cues. The soundtrack, whilst very quiet throughout, also begins to get tedious before too long at all.
The game is described as a feel good RPG, but in truth, and due to the sheer number of poorly implemented mechanics, it’s more like an RPG that looks good, but feels terrible. The combat is all over the place, the pacing is questionable at best, and the core ‘buddy-up’ system just fails to excite. It doesn’t help matters that its random generation is puddle deep, making it overly repetitive as a result. Pass this by.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.