Journey Review

by Stefano Terry

Image

Genre: Um…interactive…art?

Platforms: PlayStation 3/PSN

Developer: thatgamecompany

Price: $14.99 (USD)

Warning: Possible incoming hyperbole and gushing.

Now that that’s out of the way, we can move on. When I purchased my PlayStation 3 sometime in early 2007, I only owned one game: Resistance: Fall of Man. I soon added another title to that list; a serene, simple little game called flOw, from thatgamecompany.

FlOw originally started as a flash game playable on the computer, and was brought to the PlayStation 3 as one of the first downloadable titles on it’s fledgling PSN service.

Image

I found flOw very compelling. It was simple, easy to control (and doing a good job of utilizing the PS3’s Sixaxis motion controller), and it was enjoyable guiding your little aquatic creature thing through various levels of oceanic depth. While I may not have been blown away or mesmerized, flOw, at the least, put thatgamecompany on my list of “Developers to keep an eye on.”Image

Two years later, I found myself firing up Flower, their second in a contracted three PlayStation 3 exclusive titles available on PSN. Flower’s premise was even more poetic and serene than flOw, and I never though I’d admit to enjoying a game in which you use the wind to guide flower petals through beautifully rendered landscapes, accompanied by a moving soundtrack. Well, I did enjoy it. I did more than that, I loved it.

It seems like such a long time ago when tgc pulled the curtains back on their latest title, Journey, and I was immediately drawn to the clean, stylized art, and hints of a mysterious, “Lost Civilization” theme. The desert environment certainly piqued my interest, and the glimpses of ruined structures and mystical undertones had me sold before I saw a single moving frame of animation.

Image

It felt like an eternity since that reveal, and I was beginning to suspect that Journey would never reach it’s development end and see release. Imagine my surprise when thatgamecompany finally revealed the release date of this much anticipated title as March 13th. Imagine my further surprise when they revealed that PlayStation Plus members would get access to the game a full week early, on March 6th.

Journey is a difficult game to talk about, because, unlike any other game before it, what you experience while playing it is completely yours. What you feel, think, and do is deeply personal. It’s also difficult to talk about Journey because I don’t want to influence anyone’s thinking and expectations before they experience this game for themselves, but I suppose that cannot be helped.

Image

So, the simplest question must be answered first, I suppose: What is Journey? In gaming terms, Journey is a third person “adventure” game. The player controls an androgynous avatar that awakens in the middle of a desert. There is no explanation as to who this character is, or how they ended up in the desert. There is no guidance, other than a gigantic mountain off in the distance. For reasons unknown to the avatar, they are compelled to reach that mountain, and thus, your Journey begins.

Gameplay mechanics are wonderfully simplistic. The player controls the character with the left analog stick, and the camera with the right, or by moving the controller in the desired direction. The character cannot initially jump, and only gains that ability by collecting floating pieces of cloth that “charge” the character, allowing them to jump and float. The only other game play mechanic is the ability to “sing,” by pressing the “O” button. There is no combat.

Image

Without revealing too many of the game’s secrets, there are various hidden glyphs and locales that will either give the avatar a bonus (ie, allowing them to jump and glide further and higher), or fill the player in on the history of the world. I simply can’t go into any more detail without fear of spoiling the game’s surprises.

Visually, Journey is a technical showpiece. Despite having a clean, simplistic art style, the game feels more atmospheric and alive than the numerous “realistic” styled titles that fill store shelves. The sand effects have to be witnessed to be believed, as well as the lighting and shadowing. Screenshots do not do this game justice in the least. It’s a moving work of a art, a masterpiece in visual design and storytelling.

Image

The soundtrack is minimal, but very effective, and never intrusive. It never feels like it’s trying to manipulate you into feeling a certain way, and yet, it’s incredibly affective at making you feel something. In fact, that sums up Journey itself. I can’t tell you what to feel, but I can guarantee that you will feel something. There are very few games, and even fewer game development houses that can elicit emotions from the player beyond just excitement, fear, and anger. Journey managed to make me feel a wide variety of emotions; joy, melancholy, apprehension, peacefulness, a sense of belonging, feeling lost, and very, very mortal. It was one of the most moving and profound experiences in my gaming life.

One more bit of information before I deliver my final verdict: Journey isn’t a solo gaming experience. At any point in the game, the player may come across an additional player, experiencing their own Journey. There is no voice chat in the game, and the only methods of communication are through the “singing” mechanic mentioned above. Meeting one of these other players is seamless, and never breaks the immersion of the experience. In my first playthrough of Journey, I encountered 7 other players, one of them sticking with me until the very end. My second playthrough, I encountered 8 other players. I want to thank them sincerely, from the bottom of my heart, for helping to make my experience with this marvelous game just that much more powerful.

Image

Journey is a short game. I completed that first playthrough in roughly 2.5 hours. With any other game, the length would be an issue, but 2.5 hours is absolutely perfect for the experience that Journey is. Also, that time was spent simply going from point A to point B, and not taking time to explore the environments, and finding all of the glyphs and markers.

VERDICT: BUY – I can’t stress this enough: Journey is a visual, aural, and artistic masterpiece. It is what game designers mean when they say that “games are art.” It is a deeply personal, and emotional experience, that cannot be dictated by a reviewer such as myself. It is your Journey, even when sharing it with another player. It is a game that I strongly feel every gamer needs to play, as it is not only one of the most unique and beautiful games available on the PlayStation 3, but in gaming in general. If it was ever possible to have a “flawless” video game, Journey would certainly sit very high on that list.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: