One of PlayStation's crowning achievements is its diverse range of software. From the original grey box of magic right through to now, Sony's consoles have always been platforms that champion the weird and the wonderful as well as more popular fare. PaRappa the Rapper, a rhythm game with a zany, colourful art style about a dog that loves a flower. Noby Noby Boy, a sandbox in which your main task is to lengthen your elastic character so that a giant female worm in space can reach the far flung planets of our solar system. I Am Bread, where you play a sentient slice of white with the borderline suicidal intent of becoming toast.
Its initial premise is actually an interesting idea. Two brothers, Gordon (that's you) and Barry, are gearing up to watch an important game on TV, when a sudden announcement from the president explains that the main water supply has been contaminated by a hallucinogenic poison, and that anyone who has consumed or come into contact with it only has a trippy six hours to live. Naturally, both brothers have been affected, and over the course of the game's story, they'll go on an increasingly bizarre adventure to find a cure for themselves and their loved ones.
It doesn't take long for the real weirdness to begin, but from the offset, the art style speaks volumes as to the sort of game you're getting yourself into. It's probably the release's strongest aspect, with striking hand-drawn and / or painted backdrops and characters, but equally, it can be a little too much. Sometimes it can be downright unclear as to what you're supposed to be looking at, such is the crudeness of some of the artwork. This is likely intentional to accompany the trippy nature of the game's story and setting, but the theory may have been applied too strongly in places.
As you struggle to get a grasp on what's supposed to be a hallucination and what's actually real in Gordon and Barry's insane universe, something you won't be worrying about is the controls. You'll be pushing X a heck of a lot to make it through the incredibly wordy dialogue, and using the d-pad to pick an option as they're presented. Occasionally you'll pick an enemy to shoot or a place to take shelter, but the gameplay amounts to nothing more than selecting an option and reading what happens next.
More and more zany characters emerge as you progress, starting with a serial-killer-turned-university-professor and going up in craziness from there. There's I-ME, one of the rebels you find yourself fighting alongside with in search of the cure, who's a powerful warrior with the ability to rewind time if she dies, and Pepper Snaps, another ally who can decimate enemies with her voice. It's difficult to speak of just how crazy these characters are without spoilers, but rest assured that there is not one without a bizarre backstory.
Actually, a lot of the characters have some quite interesting things to say. Some of the writing is great, with a few wonderful moments dotted throughout the story. Unfortunately, to find them, you have to wade through a lot of waffling, inconsequential, and needlessly convoluted dialogue. In the game's latter half, there are plenty of lengthy philosophical and existential musings, and while there are some glimmers of hope here and there, it mostly failed to capture our imagination.
This could have been partly down to the soundtrack which, while perfectly befitting of the game's themes and instilling a weird and unnerving atmosphere, is simply not pleasant to listen to. The songs play on loop, meaning you'll hear the same ones over and over again – not fun when you're trying to focus on the game's story. Perhaps One Way Trip would've benefited from a more ambient soundtrack that intensified as the brothers' hallucinatory journey did – something easier to listen to while reading.
Technically speaking, the game performed well for us, but we have seen reports elsewhere of the release crashing frequently. There are no options to fiddle with, and the game autosaves either each time that you make an important choice or when the scene changes, with no way to go back and try something else. Oddly enough, once the credits rolled after an extremely lacklustre ending and we were thrown back to the title screen, clicking 'Continue' started a whole new game – it seems that once your playthrough is done, it's done.
We found ourselves completely baffled by One Way Trip. At points, it can be funny, disturbing, sad, even heart-warming, but most of the time the story doesn't really come together. The choices that you make throughout the story don't feel like they carry much weight either, and your relationships with the various characters don't evolve much beyond where they start. Ultimately, it's just not fun, and the optional side-story contextualised as a video game that you can periodically play, entitled Demon Chic, certainly doesn't improve things.
Perhaps we just didn't get it, but for us, One Way Trip's tale of two poisoned brothers on the quest for a cure in an increasingly weird dystopian setting failed to leave an impression. The aesthetic is utterly unique but maybe a little too avant-garde for its own good, while the game's story drags on and on with little substance to be found. It's a confounding mess of bright colours, bizarre characters, and unpleasant sights and sounds – but then again, maybe that's entirely the point. Either way, this is a disappointing, bare-bones visual novel, and frankly, we're glad that the trip is over.