The lights are on
I have never been much for downloadable games. Even after I got my new PS3 (one of the slim
ones with a bigger hard drive) to replace my old, warn out unit, I wasn’t much
for downloading games from the Playstation Network. The odd Final Fantasy port aside, most of the
titles on the Network just didn’t appeal to me, or didn’t seem like
lengthy-enough gaming experiences to warrant the 15-20 bucks they cost. That is, until thatgamecompany released their
PSN-exclusive Journey. Having followed the progress of the game’s
development ever since its original announcement way-back-when, I waited in
eager anticipation for its release. I
can safely say that I have not been disappointed.
In thatgamecompany’s Journey,
players are tasked with controlling a lone wanderer on his (her? [its?]) trip
across a desert as vast and empty as it is beautiful and mysterious. The destination? An enormous mountain looming in the distance,
its peak crowned with and radiating light.
And that is as much introduction as the game really gives you. From that point forward, the entire narrative
of the story takes place largely in the head of the player. There is no in-game text, and even player names
take the form of pixelated patterns, rather than PSN IDs (PSN IDs of
players you encounter in your journey are displayed at the end of a
successful playthrough). There are no
voiceovers. From the first moment to the
last, the game is entirely open to player interpretation. It’s just you and music and sand – but in
this game, that’s really all you need.
The graphics in Journey
are beautiful. I should make it clear
that no screenshot can really do the game justice. In the game’s best moments, the animations of
character model and particles of sand work together to create a world that is
ridiculously fun to look at. Everything
just flows together in a way that is
difficult to describe in words. In one
segment of the game, you find your character “surfing” down a steep, sandy
slope. After a few seconds of this
fast-paced frolic, your character passes into a tunnel of sorts, the camera
takes a side-view perspective, and suddenly the sun is shining brightly on the
sand in a way that makes it look like water.
It literally looks as if your character is surfing on a river of liquid
gold. I laughed out loud when I saw it,
it was so spectacular.
In addition to your character, there are several “creatures”
to be found in the game, most of which seem intent on helping you reach your
goal. I put the word creatures in
quotation marks, because it is not immediately apparent whether or not these
things are alive, but they all behave as if they are possessed of some
intelligence. Whether it’s a fluttering,
serpentine ribbon-creature whose vocalizations resemble whale-song, or a
massive magic-carpet-dragon (you’ll see what I mean) on whose back you can walk
and who will fly you around places, the creatures in this desert are beautiful
to behold, especially in the way they actively react to your presence.
And while it must be said that the graphics don’t look
particularly “realistic,” this is in no way a detriment to the game. The presentation just seems so, for lack of a
better word “artistic,” that you never feel as if you’re being slighted in the
graphics department. Whatever odd
graphical issues you may encounter (for instance, the characters don’t have
bodies inside their robes) really just seem like part of the game, part of the
style of the art.
Perhaps my favorite part of the game, though, is the
music. The moment I finished the title,
I hopped online to see if I could buy (or pirate [lol, jk]) the game’s
soundtrack. To my great disappointment,
the soundtrack is not currently available, but thatgamecompany has stated they
plan to release it something soon. It’s
just so brilliantly composed. The music,
every bit of it, is highly evocative, and perfect for each individual scene or
stage in the game. I’m by no means an
expert when it comes to music (what do you want? My undergrad was in English!), but I can say
that I can’t imagine how this soundtrack could be improved. This game with this soundtrack – it’s like if
you took emotions and made them sing.
Every moment is perfectly scored in a way that evokes just the right
feelings. Feelings of loneliness, of
triumph, and of empty despair – it’s all there.
The game explains rather quickly the simple control scheme,
and sets you on your way. Within the
first five minutes of the game, even an inexperienced player should be able to
understand the controls as well as a seasoned veteran, so there’s not much of a
learning curve. However, while the
controls are simple, there is a level of strategy in the game that might not be
immediately apparent on a first playthrough.
There is a scene, for instance, where your character encounters massive
mechanical dragon-like creatures who will attack and tear the character’s scarf
(but it’s a magical scarf that allolws you to jump higher and to fly and stuff –
just go with it). However, if the dragon
can’t catch you in his magical death-ray, then he can’t attack you. So the trick is in not being seen. It sounds simple, but it’s something that may
not occur to every player right away.
Journey should be
prized for its brilliant art direction and gorgeous soundtrack, but make no
mistake – this is not even a comparable gaming experience to other big-budget
titles. It’s a simple, straight-forward
(literally) title that doesn’t try to be much more than a beautiful exploration
of the ideas the game presents. This is
a game that explores themes of solitude vs. community; of discovery and
rediscovery; of loss, of life, and of death.
And it explores those themes really well. But it doesn’t try to do much more than that,
and that’s one of the things I love about it.
Trophies encourage multiple playthroughs, and there are several
references to other thatgamecompany titles hidden throughout the game. I had a great time finding them all, though
none is particularly well-hidden. If you
spend even a few minutes looking, you’re sure to find each of them.
I definitely encourage you to give this game more than one
go. As per the official GI review, I suggest
playing it once entirely alone, and again with Internet enabled – the two experiences
really are genuinely different in a way that will likely be apparent as you
cross the vast expanse of the desert. The sense of loneliness is much stronger if
you’re playing alone (duh), especially in areas like the frozen
mountainside. Players who have completed
the title know what I’m talking about. The ability to skip to later levels
after the first completion is a nice addition if there’s a trophy you want that
isn’t available until later.
All in all, Journey is legitimately one of the best titles this
year, and I might even go so far as to say one of the best games I’ve played in
general. I give it 5 Magic-Carpet-Dragons
out of 5.