E3 2011: Journey Hands-On Preview

By Jordan Douglas on June 17, 2011, 4:01PM EDT

Thatgamecompany have become one of the most prolific creators in the downloadable space. Their first two projects, flOw and Flower, received widespread critical acclaim for tapping into emotions not typically explored in gaming. The small team from the University of Southern California's Interactive Media Program have become a great example of creativity flourishing through digital distribution. Their latest title, Journey, appears to continue that trend.

The concept is simple. You see a mountain glowing in the distance, so out of pure curiosity, you head toward it. Much like thatgamecompany's past work, the intuitive concept is essential to hitting the emotional tone the game is going for. In this case, Journey attempts to remove players from their modern lives and away from all the power and knowledge we are surrounded by at all times. The vast setting and deliberately slow pace are meant to make you feel small and in awe of the natural world. Fortunately, the gorgeous visual and sparse sound design really compliments the concept.

While the abstract premise and lofty ambitions fit in nicely with thatgamecompany's pedigree, Journey's actual mechanics seem to be the closest yet to resembling a game, in the traditional sense of the word. Your traveller can walk, jump and generally navigate the world as you'd expect. By exploring, completing puzzles and/or platforming sections, you gain experience in the form of a longer ribbon. This ribbon represents your energy visually, and allows you to interact with the artifacts of the ruined civilization you frequently encounter. For example, you will be able to soar into the air at certain key points, and the distance you travel is based on your experience. It appeared that hidden areas could be reached outside the main path if you were a seasoned traveller.

Journey also features multiplayer, another first for thatgamecompany. Players with an internet connection will periodically cross paths with another person during their travels. There's no set objective to this interaction, it's purely there to highlight the feeling of isolation throughout the game. This means you can completely ignore the other person, or walk together for a while if you want. Clicking a button to get the other players' attention is the only form of structured communication. There's nothing quite like the feeling of stumbling into another player whose experience or wisdom in the game differ greatly from your own. It's something entirely unique.

I'm hesitant to say any more about Journey, because the concept is purely experiential and difficult to completely put to words. All you need to know is its a game that appears to be unlike anything we've seen before.

Look out for Journey on PlayStation Network later this year.

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