Journey – SPOILERS after the break
So I was staying overnight with a friend who owns a PS3. I don’t have one myself, but figured I’d take the opportunity to check out this Journey thing everyone has been raving about this year. I was most definitely not disappointed, and am now left with a desire to talk about it, yet I feel unsure of what words will be sufficient.
I don’t really know what genre to assign to this game, so I won’t even try. It’s about exploration. Going on a journey. The title is no lie. I would recommend everyone at least try this game. Borrow someone else’s PS3 for a bit (going to their house might be easiest) if you don’t have your own. I also highly recommend playing with the online enabled. (And I do hope it’s released for PC at some point.)
That’s all I’ll say about the game before the break. The experience won’t be totally ruined by spoilers since no words can properly describe it, but I firmly believe it’s best to go in as blind as possible. So consider this your SPOILER WARNING. I can’t really talk much about the game without SPOILERS, so if you don’t want SPOILERS, please go away and come back after you’ve played it. SPOILERS AHEAD! SERIOUSLY!
I mean it! Everyone sure they want to be here now? Good. Let’s dig in.
I really tried to go into the game with an analytical mind, but by the time I got out of the first area and found my first friend such thoughts were quickly lost. I was swallowed up by the game for the roughly 2 hours it took to complete it.
The game starts slowly. There’s an intro cinematic displaying just how gorgeous the thing is. Then there’s a little red person sitting in the sand, and a tiny tutorial starts up explaining with simple pictures how you control the camera and move the person.
In fact, there are almost no words in the whole game. I think a few of the tutorial images say “Hold” when referring to how certain buttons work. The entire story is conveyed entirely through show. You won’t get any tell here.
As you climb the first hill, you get to see the mountain in the distance with the light on top of it that features on the title image I used. Once you stop gawking and move forward again you notice how you effortlessly slide down the sand dune. There’s a shiny not far off, as if the game is gently (though not exactly subtly) telling you where you need to go.
Reaching the shiny adds a few sheets to your scarf, and introduces you to the jump/fly/soar mechanic. See, all ‘people’, ‘plants’ and ‘animals’ are made of magical cloth in this world. And when they touch they charge eachother up. What this means for you is that when your scarf is charged, you can soar up into the air in a most satisfying manner, and float delicately back towards the ground. Having charge in your scarf is delightfully freeing, so I happily sought shinies for added length and ways to keep it charged up as much as possible.
The other mechanic you use is making sounds. Everything from short chirps to loud, carrying tones that might elicit some sort of response from the world around you. Markers might light up; decaying cloth might revitalise; flying cloth sheets might swarm around you and carry you into the air; friends might get a slight charge.
Ironically enough; even though most of the game is set in sandy desert, I wouldn’t call the game a sandbox. There are areas to explore (some of them pretty vast) to find more shinies to add to your scarf and some other neat things, but the experience is very linear. It looks like you can go anywhere, but if you get to the edge you encounter strong winds that push you back. I thought that was a nice touch instead of just an invisible wall. The wind gradually picks up until it’s so strong you can’t exert enough forward force.
And then there are the friends. I call them such, because that’s really all they can be. They can’t really get in your way, or hinder you in any way. You don’t even really need them, but having their help makes things easier, and a lot more enjoyable. Touching eachother refills the scarf charge, so you can help eachother soar to heights you’d otherwise not reach. You can sound off a melodic tune whenever you find a shiny, can’t find eachother or you just feel chatty; you can coordinate to solve the simple puzzles; you can just dance around eachother to keep eachother charged up; you can simply enjoy having company in this desolate and mysterious land.
You’ll never see a name-tag or any appreciable difference from yourself, apart from them having a different symbol appear whenever they make a sound. There also might be some difference in how long your scarves are depending on how many shinies you’ve found. At the end you’ll get a list of gamertags of everyone you played with. One of the ones on my list was called “Diediedieyoudie”. Gamertags, man.
The very first area you’re in seems like it’s always done alone. I found new friends the entire way after I got to the second area and beyond, but no one showed up in the starting area. Whenever I got got separated from a friend, I felt a bit of sadness, because even though I couldn’t speak to them, they were nice company. Almost everyone I met seemed to like helping me out. We stayed close, showed eachother around, sang to eachother and just were there in the world. They came without warning, and left the same way, soon to be replaced by another identical friend. There was one I thought carried through a few loading screens, but I can’t be sure.
The controls feel excellent. Moving about the world is a joy, especially the longer your scarf gets. There was a lot of pleasure is simply flying and sliding around, and exploring the wondrous sights.
The entire journey is littered with ruins that you get to explore, occasionally punctuated by little cutscenes that shows pictograms of what happened in the world, from how civilisation started, to how it got to the state it’s currently in.
I said the game was gorgeous, but that hardly does it enough justice. The art and art direction are marvelous. The sand-dunes are clearly defined, and everything that is not sand pops out at you easily. Coupled with the beautiful soundtrack it makes an experience I haven’t encountered the like of.
After moving through several desert areas, you find other mystical places. There’s an area that looks like you’re underwater. Through clever use of lighting, cloth stretching upwards like kelp and some jellyfish-shaped cloth creatures it almost looks like the ocean. You can ride the kelp upwards, hop from jellyfish to jellyfish and almost swim through the environment.
You find a large room that is a relic of the old world where you get to fill it up with magical warmth and fly freely around in, even riding a cloth dragon at one point if you want to. It felt wonderfully liberating, and I started to get a sense of exactly how much the world had lost.
You get inside some buried buildings that contain flying stone dragons. These have a search-light, and will charge you if they see you. It was a really tense sequence as I had several friends stolen away by these dragons. I was lucky enough to avoid all of them inside, but fell victim to one outside. It cut my scarf in half, which was absolutely heart-breaking. I was quite proud of my long scarf at that point.
Then finally you get to a snow-covered wasteland as you get higher up towards the mountain. The cold isn’t so bad at first, but I noticed fairly quickly that it was slowly sapping away my scarf charge. So it became extra important to stick close to my friend so we could share warmth and stay charged. It gets progressively colder as you move on though, until it robs you of your voice bit by bit. You go down to tiny chirps, and then to complete silence as the icy winds tear away all the scarf you have left. Even when it no longer helped I wanted to stick as close as possible to my friend as we marched on.
This leads to an ending I can’t bring myself to spoil, even with the massive spoiler warning. Ask me for my IM or Steam ID if you still want to hear it. All I will say is that it was absolutely fantastic.Journey is a game that puts me in a slightly awkward position as I can’t find anything to criticise. The controls feel great, the sound and visuals are excellent, the co-op is wonderfully inspired, everything feels carefully well-crafted and it’s exactly as long as it needs to be. It has a story to tell, a world to show you and an experience to share, and it does just that. Well done, thatgamecompany. Very well done.
There is likely much more I could say, but honestly words feel poor. A cliché perhaps, but appropriate. I’ve probably also used the word “experience” too much. All I’ll really add is that the flocks of chirping kites filled me with joy. I want to play the game again. So I really do hope it comes out on PC, or I might have to get my first Playstation.