You wouldn't think that a game about an amoeba-like creature would have been popular at all. The same could be said about a game where you control flower petals. However, both flOw and Flower were poignant and amazing games created by the talented folks at thatgamecompany. Fans have been waiting with anticipation for the studio's third title: Journey. The question that we all have is simple: does Journey stand up to the monumental standards that its predecessors began?
The narrative in Journey, much like the other two games, is both confusing but also instinctual. You may not know the name of the main character, the character may never speak a line, and there may be no exposition at all, but you just seem to understand what's going on. What's more impressive is that it never feels that the game is ever holding your hand like a child and walking you through it. You take control of a desert dwelling avatar who has an ability to manipulate and use pieces of cloth to perform certain tasks, solve puzzles, and reach the ultimate end goal. For the sake of not giving out spoilers, I won't say what the goal is, but rest assured that there are many different meanings to what you think might happen.
This sense of deeper thought or multiple planes of thinking is something thatgamecompany is not only known for, but are absolutely brilliant at crafting. What's even more impressive is that the game doesn't require you to think deeply if you'd rather just play the game to veg out for a while. It's essentially an experience unique to every player. It's truly an amazing accomplishment.
Journey is 3D platforming/puzzle/adventure game. You control your avatar and move through area after area solving puzzles to advance. Early in the game, you'll discover that your avatar's scarf is key to controlling your powers and abilities. This scarf holds energy that allows to you move faster and to jump/glide through the air. Through out the game, you'll find bright runes scattered all over the place that will lengthen your scarf allowing you to run faster and to jump higher or further. But be careful, certain sections of the game have enemies that, when spotted, will tear your scarf and make it shorter. In addition, you have a "discover" ability that essentially will let you activate certain sections of an area , be they pieces of cloth, stones, or walls full of glyphs. All these elements work together to create the puzzles and gameplay. The gameplay is relatively simple and even though there is no proper tutorial, getting into the swing of the game feels like second nature.
But let's be honest, fans of thatgamecompany know their titles are all about the presentation and how it affects our experience. Let's start with the visuals. To put it bluntly, they are properly gorgeous. The vast deserts, underground dungeons, and snowy mountains are breath-taking. They make excellent use of light (or lack of it) to create different tones, moods, and feelings for each area. The particle effects like the sand and snow are brilliant; they are both stylized but also realistic. I know that sounds contradictory, but it's truly a sight to behold. The animation of your avatar is very simple, but it works incredibly well; the way its shawl shifts and sways while you move is fantastic. It's also wonderful to see how the physics of the game affects your avatar.The audio design is pure bliss. Being a composer and a sound designer, I'm always more critical on this area than most other reviewers, so when I say that this is brilliant, you know I mean business. The music composed by Austin Wintory is gorgeous. Each song has its own memorable moments without ever becoming intrusive while playing the game. Even as I type this review, I'm listening to the soundtrack and it puts me in a trance. It's truly and properly fantastic. The sound effects in the game are also very well done. The ambient sounds of shifting sand, blustery snow storms, and larger than life monsters are great and fit the atmosphere perfectly. Bottom line, the presentation in Journey is gorgeous!
However, one of the most interesting parts of the game is the multiplayer. What's interesting is that Journey has no "Co-op Mode" in the conventional sense that you select from the menu screen. Throughout your travels, you'll see another avatar that's identical to yours running around in the area that you're in. Their scarf may be longer or it may be shorter and you're not sure where they came from. You may decide to work with them or you may decide to explore on your own. What's more, you have no idea who they are as there are no PSN names to identify them (after beating the game, it will list the names of the people you encountered). In addition, there is no text or voice chat in the game, but somehow, communication works. I found myself using my "discover" ability to signal to my partner and vice versa. It's hauntingly beautiful how well two people will work together with practically no conventional means of communication. I was amazed.
The length of Journey is about the same as both flOw and Flower in that you'll beat the game in just a couple short hours; it's easily a game to get through in one sitting, but for full completion and trophy gathering, it'll take you many more hours. However, the games from thatgamecompany have always been about immersing yourself into a unique experience, and Journey is no different. I have already spent several extra hours just exploring all the different areas soaking in all the nuances that the game provides.
Let's sum up. Does Journey hold up to its predecessors? It absolutely does! If you're a fan of thatgamecompany and the games they make, I can guarantee you won't be disappointed with Journey and if you haven't already picked it up, make sure you do. However, if you are more of an action junky who doesn't really enjoy arthouse games, I can't say that it's easy to recommend. Journey is an excellent example of how video games can be expressive and for that, I commend thatgamecompany in their continued success. This is an experience unlike most anything on the market today; I would encourage you not to miss it!
|Beautiful visuals and sound design.|
|Expressive direction and simple gameplay creates a unique experience.|
|Ingenious incorporation of multiplayer.|
|Relatively short, with little replay value outside of Trophies.|
|Really quite easy to complete.|
|Leaves you wanting more.|