This is where I start drinking heavily.
At the beginning of January, we posted our Indie Game Lookout, showcasing the finest indie games that were surely going to set the world afire with their creativity, styles, and flair. Of all the games featured on the list, today’s title– AWAY: Journey to The Unexpected, was going to be the first released out of the 20. Let’s find out whether I have a good judgment call or not.
This is the latest title from Aurelien Regard, a Frenchman responsible for having his hand in a handful of projects. There’s the fun Arkanoid tribute of Nervous Brickdown, and the visual onslaught that was Hell Yeah! Wrath of The Dead Rabbit— Both of which he made with the dev team he co-founded, Arkedo Studio. After Arkedo closed down in 2013, he went his own way and released The Last Penelope in 2015, a sizzling and inventive tribute to F-Zero, and now we have another sizzling and inventive title in the form of an FPS.
You play as a small child, sheltered from the world and its dangers, with even his parents not disclosing their occupation to him. Living with his grandparents while his parents are out on another job, he is awoken by the sound of earthquake-like shaking all around his house, and discovers the evil corporation Labiworks are causing caustic liquids to erupt from the grounds and infect the local wildlife and ruin local buildings. Effectively useless against the dangers present, it’s all okay because he has the power of friendship on his side. Yes, I’m serious.
Look, truth be told, you take one look at AWAY, and you think “oh yeah, that’s a winner”. The lovely anime-inspired artwork, the concept of using a varied and robust team to fight alongside you and help face the enemies looking to defeat you– It looked great, alright? Well, after playing it and finishing it in less than four hours, I only have one question.
What the hell happened?
Everything about AWAY, every promising feature, the cutesy nature, the vibe bought forth by the cheesy J-rock and anime intro reminiscent of a Toonami original; It all falls apart mere moments after you begin your adventures into the lands available to you. It’s only February and already, a contender for The Most Disappointing Game of The Year is visible, but regardless, let’s dig deeper.
AWAY’s formula is a grotesque mutation of different genres, but none of them are fused into each other beyond face value. The first thing you’ll come across is the FPS flavor, but for brevity’s sake, we’ll talk about the negotiation aspect first. The gist is that because the character you control is unbelievably useless– Actually, truth be told, he isn’t.
The reason why he isn’t is that the enemy variety is pitifully small. While your character can only do set damage of 1HP on every monster, which can lead him to be easily overwhelmed in some instances, but if our best friend Kiting has our back, then you won’t have a problem with all 9 different enemies… Well, until the perspective comes into play.
Thus we come to one of AWAY’s main problems, and that’s the perspective of enemies when it comes to combat. Since they’re 2-D sprites within 3-D environments, trying to get a decent hit on them with melee combat is a task easier said than done. Even when you’re using a ranged character, your accuracy tends to suffer due to the 2-D sprites shrinking astronomically when long-ranged combat comes into play.
Naturally, bosses don’t have this problem, and this is where AWAY shines slightly through the dirt. There are only 3 bosses (Not counting the final boss but in due time), and each one is unique enough not to complain about repeat tactics being used. Out of all 3, the floating head in World 2 was the most enjoyable to fight, mostly because it’s the only one that can’t be easily cheesed due to the negotiation mechanics.
Now we’re back on track, and in truth, the negotiation aspect is almost executed properly. How it works, is that you come up to another person populating the world with you, and spark up a conversation with them. Get on their good side, try and relate to them, or offer help in their time of need. Should they accept, then that’s it, from now until the end of time, they will be there to offer all of their services for you, without question.
This whole negotiation mechanic happens eight times throughout your adventure, not including the impossible-to-lose speech challenge against the final boss at the end. That doesn’t seem too bad if it wasn’t for the fact that every single speech challenge is transparent and easy to see the right answer for. A lot of the time, you don’t even have to be a friend to them, instead acting like a complete and utter prick due to the fact that you’re the protagonist, and you’re allowed whatever you want.
From there, you can now use whatever “friend” you’ve acquired in your past playthroughs, granted that you happen to go to the same worlds they reside in. Out of all eight, only one can be considered objectively useful– Useful to the point of game-breaking, as this particular friend’s power involves a gun that one-hits all enemies, and makes light work of bosses.
Seriously, this one friend renders the entire gameplay section of AWAY pointless. There will never be any challenge coming from any firefight, because now that you have an unstoppable golden gun-toting robot on your side, with more than enough bullets to share for everybody around him, what’s the point? Granted, this particular friend will cost you 500 gold, which might sound like a preposterous price, but– Oh? What’s that? Some random guy in the next world will give you 500 gold just for listening to his problems once?
Well, I guess that’s that, then. Even when disregarding this simple cash trick, it’s still remarkably easy to gather enough gold to use his services permanently. Enemies will drop gold like its candy, and there tens of chests that can be opened not just in the overworld, but in dungeons as well. You’ll never be short of using the money for this guy. There is a catch, however.
All of your friends have energy instead of health, stopping you from simply using just them until the end of your run. If they run out of energy, then that’s it, they can’t be used until their energy is replenished via burgers sold by the Merchant. Now, considering how you’ll want to use these friends for as much as possible, these burgers are probably very expensi– Oh, what’s that? It’s cheaper than a Friendship Cube, which is only a meager 100 gold, and is arguably more important to the development of your team?
Boy, the economy of AWAY is fucked.
There’s no point talking about the other friends, because they’re useless, save for the sentient ice lolly who can also one-hit enemies for you. The rest waver between gimmicky without context, or inaccurate and pathetic against what you want them to fight. The tree trunk never got a kill while I was controlling him, the bat that gives you free HP wasn’t necessary, the plant manager mutant would’ve been useful if it wasn’t for his stupid visual filter, and I have no idea what the point of that skeleton was.
Now one could ask about the Rouge-Like mechanics, but a better question to ask would be “Where are they?”. It’s a pre-school definition of Rouge-Like, with our old friends Permadeath and randomization just barely coming into play. Well, for your first 1 or 2 playthroughs, randomization will play a part, where you’ll have to enter small dungeons in order to activate switches to lead you into the boss room.
Or at least, they do for a while, until the easy-to-gain permanent XP upgrades you gain at the end of each playthrough include an upgrade which skips the entire randomized section of the game. I’m not kidding, it takes literal minutes to turn this into the most linear Rogue-Like ever made, along with the easiest Rouge-Like ever made.
I simply don’t get who this game was designed for. I don’t understand what the intentions for this product were. Every single conflict of ideas is present in full force and it turns into a product with no direction or effort beyond the anime aesthetic. All of it culminating in a final boss fight so unfunny and poorly designed, that “Nonmedy” took its toll on me and I immediately uninstalled the game. I completed it, but I wasn’t proud of it.
What was the point of this game? To show off the power of friendship? What power? That you can get whatever you want by manipulating those willing to give a shit about your existence? Yeah, great message, like that’s a lesson to teach to kids. Be nice to people so you can piggyback off of their success and good fortunes. What a crock of shit. What a pointless, selfish and offensive endeavor, filled with pointless, selfish and offensive things. If this is what friendships are supposed to be, then no wonder this world is fucked.
In short, AWAY was a waste of time. Goodnight.
A direction-less, offensive and pitiful mutation of genres that doesn't leave a strong mark in any ripped from other sources.
Owner of the largest collection of indie games in the Western Hemisphere, and TimeSplitters’ biggest fanboy.