“All the things I’ll never see
All the things I’ll never be
All there is that’s left for me
Is here in this eternity
– Howard Moon
The Longing is less of a game, and more of an insight into the human soul. If you come into this expecting a game, heck, if you even come in expecting fun, you are going to be bitterly disappointed. I’ve played many games that could fit into the ‘games as art’ category, but this game basically defines it.
Many thanks to Application Systems Heidelberg for the review code.
PLAYING THE WAITING GAME
The game opens with a huge cave-dwelling King (or is the Shade just really small?) addressing his loyal servant, informing you that he needs to sleep for 400 days in order to regain his power. You are ordered to remain in your cave and wake him up once the 400 days are up. The Shade is a rather depressing character, with his slumped posture, bulging yellow eyes, and long pointed nose; he is quite very much the personification of depression, and you need to keep him occupied throughout his long wait.
The game timer counts down in real time, but thankfully it also continues even when the game is completely closed. Time will continue to pass in the Shade’s world regardless of whether or not you are there. Think of it as a rather bleak Tamagotchi that doesn’t need sustenance, but instead craves companionship to help pass the time.
Gameplay consists primarily of exploring the caves around the dormant king; partly to see what lies around, but mainly to find things that can help pimp up your bedroom – be it new books for your bookshelf, or just different coloured chalk to draw with. Why, you may ask? Well, even though the game moves in real time, you can make time pass faster in your quarters by adding more stuff to it. The game forces you to balance extended periods in the slower outside area to find things that will help you pass the time when you’re not playing (provided that you lead the Shade back to his room, of course).
The first thing that will hit you as the game begins is just how slow paced everything is. The Shade walks extremely slow, possibly the slowest I’ve ever seen in a videogame, making any journey a waiting game. After a long climb up some tall stairs, you’ll be greeted with a door that takes a minute to open. It teaches you right off the bat that you’ll need a lot of patience in order to proceed. You need it too, since other doors can take hours to open – and other obstacles may take longer. I reached one area with a huge drop and was informed that the growing moss below would allow me to land safely – but it will take weeks to grow enough. There are also dead ends, endless corridors, and even rocks you have to manually push… slowly. Thankfully you do get used to the slow pace once you accept that there’s no rush to do anything, but it is a little tedious … intentionally so.
The Longing is definitely not a fun game to play, but it is certainly somewhat meditative. After clicking with the slow pace, wandering around can be somewhat relaxing. In a world full of stress and impatience, this world of few demands becomes therapeutic. The Shade becomes a reflection of yourself: he is an embodiment of loneliness that craves companionship, but needs to find solace in performing mundane tasks. In his 400 year wait, he has to learn to accept solitude and the need for patience, which in turn allows you to do so too. Think of the game like Inland Empire: it’s certainly artistic and very deep, but it’s also not very entertaining as an experience. I believe that the audience for The Longing will be very similar: people seeking the art and insight into loneliness, rather than something that’s fun to play. That being said, the 400 day timer is little bit misleading as there are four possible endings, with only one of them requiring you to wait out the 400 days. I achieved one of the alternative endings, and I have to say I had certainly had enough of the title by that point. Having viewed the 400 day ending on YouTube, it’s certainly not worth the long wait, and isn’t even really the ‘good’ ending.
An area where The Longing definitely shines is with the artistic direction and sound. Everything about the game is jaw-droppingly beautiful. The style they went with it pretty much perfect, and there are some fantastically designed areas. In addition, the haunting music and effects help to sell this as a real world. The Shade’s bare feet can be heard slapping against the glass floor, and the crumbling of the ceiling indicates when coal is starting to drop. It also has some nice accessibility options to aid the tedium: you can save a marker in any location to remember it, and the Shade will walk there automatically, even if the game is turned off. It definitely helps with traversal and there are plenty of remembrance slots, although it would have been nice if you could label them to help you remember why you saved a certain area weeks ago.
Speaking of omissions, the lack of a proper map is also quite annoying. There is a map hall where you can access a mostly useless overview of the kingdom, but I feel like giving the Shade the ability to copy the map for himself which he can then annotate with useful information would have made things a lot less annoying. The Shade’s slow speed makes going to the wrong area, or places you’ve already been, feel particularly frustrating. But then, perhaps that was the point…
As a game that involves waiting as the primary game mechanic: waiting for doors, waiting for things to complete, waiting for your damn Shade to walk somewhere, and of course waiting for the king, this game is certainly not for everyone. It’s definitely more of a meditative artistic experience than a gameplay one, so if that is what you are looking for then you may very much dig what The Longing has to offer. If you are wanting a fun game, then it may end up irritating. Myself? I feel rather mixed on the experience: it’s a beautiful game and quite insightful, but I can’t deny that I often felt bored and frustrated on multiple occasions. Yet, despite that, I found myself rather fond of the game and the world within.