It's a rainy Saturday afternoon when I have some time to finally play the first chapter of The Journey Down, a game by SkyGoblin. SkyGoblin is an independent publisher and developer based in Sweden. They exist since 2005 and have been involved in a number of projects, ranging from small web games to a full-blown MMO called "Nord". The Journey Down: Over The Edge is their first commercial adventure. Some people might remember that Over The Edge was once released as a free adventure made with Adventure Game Studio. Its commercial brother is in an entirely different league, though.
Starting the game takes me straight to the main menu and already I can tell I'm in for a treat. The tune playing is so catchy and happy that I'm starting to forget about the rain outside. I even have to wait before I press play, just so I can finish the song. Simon De Souza is responsible for the music in The Journey Down and he did a hell of a job. Music is often an afterthought in a lot of games, and once again I'm reminded how important music is to set or strengthen the mood.
The game starts with a cinematic intro, rendered in cartoon-style 3D. The intro, as well as other cut-scenes in the game, is directed very professionally with interesting shots and sharp cuts. Voice acting is mostly okay. - Lovely accents, great articulation and most importantly, (and this is a pet peeve of mine), no rushing through lines. The actors take their time, not only the ones that are supposed to because of their laid-back character. Not all characters are voiced equally well technically, though. There's a noticeable difference in recording equipment amongst different characters and sometimes I also heard some changes in volume in the middle of different lines.
The game employs a mixed style of hand drawn backgrounds and 3D pre-rendered characters. Both blend together very well, thanks to the cartoony rendering method used and excellent lighting and shadowing effects that help putting the characters into their environment. The game has a very unique style, with characters having faces that resemble ancient African masks. It reminds me of Tim Shafer's brilliant skeleton heads in Grim Fandango. The characters are shaped in an abstract manner that I really like. The poses of some characters could be less stiff, though. I'm not entirely in love with Bwana's default pose either.
The backgrounds look very polished and are pleasant to look at thanks to great shading techniques and use of vibrant colors. The harbor environment could have benefitted from minor improvements. The entry to the ship is a bit cramped, while there is abundant useless space in the forklift area, which also makes it a bit boring to look at.