A Journey Worth Taking
As per usual this is the time of year where the only way we can stave off boredom is with games we already have. This is due to the slew of titles that have been announced for the end of year period so developers have left us with a scant amount of mid-year titles. So being unable to review anything new I am instead going back to a game that I hold dear to my heart.
Journey is a game that was developed for the Play Station Network by developer Thatgamecompany. The main aim of Journey is simply to reach a light at the top of a mountain which you must reach by journeying through a vast desert. The idea seems simple but it’s what you encounter along the way that makes this game one of the most astounding and unforgettable games ever.
At the beginning of Journey you take control of a cloaked figure who sits peacefully at the bottom of various sand dunes. A controller appears on screen and shows you simple controls with which to turn the camera and move your character. As you move the left joystick the cloaked figure gets up and you are able to move around. You approach the dunes and move towards the top of the one in front of you, you reach the top and you are shown a bright light in the distance that resides on top of a mountain and as you look down from the mountain you seen protruding from the ground are graves.
The reason I have explained this entire first sequence is because through the use of imagery the game has immediately conveyed to you the means in which to control your character, the goal you must reach and the severe setting you have been put in. Journey tells its story through imagery and ambiance.
The first thing that stands out in Journey is its graphics, which are gorgeous. The sand beneath your feet shifts as you walk through it and the cloak that is worn by your character drifts and capers in the direction of the wind. I can guarantee you that the majority of the time I’ve spent in Journey has been either floating around or drawing pictures in the sand. Also if you press the “O” button it allows you to whistle, if you hold down the button then you actually sing which sends out an aura that flattens the sand below you.
Whistling/singing is actually a device used to communicate in multiplayer.
Yes surprisingly Journey has multiplayer. Don’t worry you won’t be shoved into chat rooms waiting to join a game. The great thing about this multiplayer is that it’s completely seamless.
While you are playing if you happen to be online then you will most likely come across another player who is in the same area as you. The interesting thing about the multiplayer is that it doesn’t change anything gameplay wise. The only difference is that someone gets to come on your Journey with you. I know it doesn’t sound like much but as you go through the game with this one random person you actually begin to develop a bond. You both have the same goal to work towards so naturally you will be working together. There is also no means of communication except for whistling and again the minimalist idea gets the job done. The singing and whistling aspect permits communication on the simplest levels.
If you are sliding down a large sand dune together you sing at each other to express your joy. If you are in an area of danger then quick and sharp whistle tones can express shock or perhaps be a warning. When you come to the end of your Journey you feel satisfied that you shared this experience with someone but also sad to see them go.
Thatgamecompany has masterfully conveyed emotion through very simple means.
But a game isn’t a game without gameplay right, so what’s that like?
I‘ve heard from a lot of people that this is the best “non-game” ever. They say this because there isn’t much you do in the way of gameplay. All you really do in the game is float around while progressing towards the end of the level and occasionally you come across flying constructs that can hinder your progress but for the most part the game is quite simple, yet I find it much more engrossing than any bland shooter that seems to be regurgitated yearly.
This game contains something that is quite sparse for a video game; it contains mystery, atmosphere and wonder. Journey manages to draw a player into its world with the simplest techniques yet the world feels like it could go on forever. The story is quite humble as well and yet the way it’s conveyed makes it feel like it is so complex at the same time.
I know I’m singing Journey’s praises out the arse, I’m gushing, and I get it. I guess I’m doing this though because this game has had such a lasting appeal for me. It really felt like it harkened back to Ico or Shadow of the Colossus, much like these two games it has that amazing sense of wonder and beauty, yet has an immense amount of mystery that leaves you wanting more and more.