Review: Journey for Elysium

Mantis Games’ story-driven adventure Journey for Elysium has been an intriguing prospect ever since VRFocus first encountered the title at Gamescom 2018. With a striking design aesthetic, a narrative based on Greek mythology and a mixture of gameplay mechanics from rowing to puzzle-solving, there was also an air of mystery about the experience. With that mystery now gone, what’s left is a short, puzzle by numbers videogame.

Journey for Elysium is more of an interactive story akin to Vader Immortal rather than a full-blown virtual reality (VR) experience. The gameplay gently takes you by the hand and leads you through the Underworld, each puzzle fliting between simple to grandiose set pieces. You’ll never get lost and most likely never stuck for any major amount of time.

The design work Mantis Games has put into some of the locations is incredible to look at. Beautiful stone carvings that tower overhead create environments that certainly look fitting for a Greek god, made all the more striking by the black and white palette. It’s not often you see a black and white design in VR – Stifled’s line art comes to mind, or Blind – which is a shame because the look can add so much emotion to the story being told.

Using a B&W palette also forms part of the gameplay experience, with important objects highlighted in gold. The juxtaposition of these two elements looks visually appealing but it does make interactions a little too easy. Quite a few of the puzzle locations are fairly compact, so finding a gold coin, key or another other object takes little to no time at all. It would have been nice to see this dynamic further explored as find and collect challenges where objects are glaring you in the face just don’t cut it.

The puzzles which are the most fun are the ones that get you really involved. Having to climb what look like ancient ruins and statues, lighting torches with flaming arrows or carefully navigating a floor without being skewered, these were some of the best bits. Especially when all of these were combined for the final sequence at the end. The difficulty arc is minimal in Journey for Elysium, even in the later stages, not once did any frustration set in which is unusual for a puzzle-oriented videogame.

Another nice aspect is the rowing system. When VRFocus has previously spoken with Mantis Games the team said one of the main reasons for its addition was to make Journey for Elysium comfortable for all. The rowing works very well, you can even push off walls or rocks should you get too close. The feature is really only there to transition between areas, with a few story elements narrated along the way. Most of the puzzles take place on land, with both smooth locomotion and teleportation options available so most players should find one that works for them.

Because most of the experience is fairly easy and strongly centred around the story Journey for Elysium is very short. Having managed to complete the entire title in just over one hour and thirty minutes, this is why it felt more like an interactive narrative, a decent film you can be part of. Which can make all the difference when choosing what type of experience you’re after. There’s also the matter of the replay factor, with no additional features helping draw you back in.

Journey for Elysium has some wonderful elements and high production values, such as the visual design, movement mechanics and voice acting. But like its protagonist, the title is stuck between two worlds, not quite offering enough gameplay challenge while the story fails to emotionally connect. At the right price Journey for Elysium is worth a quick blast through.

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