Old Man's Journey by Broken Rules is a beautifully illustrated story where every scene and flashback is like a painting. Being a short game of 2 hours, I could finally fit it in my schedule recently when I had a bit of spare time before work, and it was no doubt a great way to start my day.
From one scenic landscape to the next, my breath was taken away every playtime by the grand visuals, which made me feel like a small person in a big world. Whether standing on a bridge looking up at hot air balloons, on a tall hill staring down at waterfalls, or in a train watching the scenery roll by, this game was a joy to play (and look at) all the way through. The journey was short yet very sweet.
Starting the Journey
The story begins with our protagonist receiving a letter that contains what appears to be very concerning news, and he sets off from his house by the sea to his destination. Along the way, there are many different environments to pass through: towns, rolling hills, bridges, and waterfalls to name a few.
The only thing we can do to help him move along is terraform the landscape around him. In a short span of time, we move hills, roads, and tracks so they connect with each other, shift obstacles in the environment so they're no longer blocking him, slide down waterfalls, and ride buses, cars, trains, boats, and more to reach his destination.
The two short hours I spent on this during my spare time in the morning were packed full with different phases of his journey and is not lacking in either visuals or entertaining puzzles. Moreover, the choice to play this in the morning was well-decided as the rising and setting of the sun in the game matched the sun outside my window.
Beautiful Memories and Remnants of Regret
As the old man gets to different rest stops — maybe a bench by a large tree, or a bus stop for his next ride — he'll take a break and reflect on the beautiful memories that the environment around him reminds him of.
Through his reflection, we get to see both happy and sorrowful remnants of his past, which are as vibrantly illustrated as the rest of this game. You learn of his story, his youth when he was always drawn to sea, and his family who holds a dear yet painful spot in his heart.
These cutscenes of his life were the best part of the game for me. The atmosphere was already set by his environment, and the background music and ambience fit perfectly. When the flashbacks happened, I was already prepared for the mood of the scene and the emotions in the snippets of his youth I was allowed to glimpse.
It's Not All Green Grass and Blue Skies
The first locations he visits are the nearby town and sprawling hillsides; because of the atmosphere of the game's opening, the art I'd seen for it, and the style of the first few landscapes, I believed that the game would be peaceful and calming all the way through.
I was wrong.
Eventually, just as in life, we have to face rough weather and stormy seas — the storm in his own mind also grows as he remembers his regrets from his past.
Despite the weather no longer matching that of the weather outside my own window and my anxiety levels rising as I realized he was in a thunderstorm with short sleeves, I loved the symbolism. The external atmosphere matched his inner feelings, and the weather and ambience sets the mood for each sorrowful flashback he has in the area.
The puzzles in the stormy area also became more challenging at this point and required more thinking than merely moving hills and sheep around. The variation in puzzles was nice since it made for less repetitive gameplay, albeit only being able to do a limited set of actions throughout the game.
A Walk Down Memory Lane
Eventually, the storm does clear, and the old man's journey comes to an end — as does our own. His trip was a true walk down memory lane, filled with as many ups and downs as the hills themselves. The ending was tear-jerking yet heartwarming and a fitting close to his trek.