Journey Review (PS3)

journey-ps3-coverThatgamecompany is back with their third game, Journey, which sees the player travel across a strange and beautiful land to their ultimate destination, with other real players accompanying them along the way. While the gameplay and visuals are unique, the ethos and atmosphere behind Journey harks back to the wonderful worlds of both flOw and Flower. And much like its predecessors, exposition is a visual experience, left for the player to interpret.

The player is given control of a small, robed and hooded figure who can run, jump and slide and that’s about it. Beautiful in its simplicity, the game naturally introduces its salient features and mechanics through player discovery. Anyone seeking a complex platforming system and an arsenal of special moves may be disappointed because that is the very antithesis of Journey.

You soon learn that in this serene world, and initially in the desertscape, that the pieces of cloth that scatter the world, carpets, I’d opted to call them, are alive, and they are your friends. You are able to revive them, they in turn give you extra ‘power’ to jump higher and further to allow you to reach your destination. These carpets even allow your to form large bridges or even ride them as the glide along. The extent of Journey’s platforming mechanics doesn’t reach out much farther, but at the same time, I never felt a dearth of features nor a significant lack of challenge.

Journey’s equivalent of secret collectibles comes in the forms of glowing orbs. These orbs lengthen your scarf, whose length denotes your relative ‘power’ to jump. But the real genius lies in how you can interact with your online journeying partners who can drop into your game (or their game depending on how you see it) anytime. By touching your companion you can recharge your power, making cooperation extremely useful, though not utterly compulsory. The relationship with your partner is also characterised by the simplification, compared to most contemporary games, of communication. You only have one button with which to ‘ping’ to alert your partner. Various lengths and frequencies of pings come to form a rudimentary language as you continue with your friend.

The story is a simple one, as you might have guessed, it’s a journey, to your ultimate destination atop a high mountain in the distance. There’s a somewhat spiritual element to it, involving what appear to be the gods of the world and you journey leads you down into dark depths before you can climb upwards. To say anything more would be to spoil the best thing Journey has to offer, suffice to say it’s a beautiful and even magical journey.

One of Journey’s greatest achievements is its stunning soundtrack, that is fittingly sweeping and ethereal. This combined with the simple but effective visuals that make use of bold and deep colours, with varying light levels to denote the presence of life, make Journey a delight to the senses.

It’s interesting way to approach multiplayer, doing away with lobbies and player names, which creates a much nicer, though more basic, online experience. In many ways, it can feel more meaningful. And then there’s nothing like the surprise to see the disparate names of your companion(s) listed at the end. e.g. Xx720NoScopexX etc.

I can’t help but see Journey as the antithesis of early 1980s/90s games. While they were crude visual experiences, they relied a lot on extensive and complex gameplay. Journey on the other hand is a shorter (only a few hours at length) visual (and audio) experience more concerned with the emotions and the adventure than challenging gameplay elements. There are merits to both, but if that description sounds unappealing to you, this likely isn’t your game. But it is, as far as I’m concerned, the best game so far this year and an extremely valuable contribution to art within games.