Every once in a while you come across a game, hidden away in the darkest recesses of the PlayStation Network, that attempts to break the mould. All too often, many fall flat on their faces at this hurdle, but thatgamecompany have continuously come in first with the help of their simple and innovative ideas. Their recent release of Journey, a brand new explorative experience unlike anything gaming has ever seen before, certainly doesn’t disappoint.
The main focus in this game is that of exploration, there is no set story and you only have one objective; to get to the mountain in the distance. What’s nice about this is the fact that it’s completely up to you just how you get there and what you may discover along the way. Rather than being a game focused on the objective, it’s more focused on the player completing their own metaphorical journey through their own consciousness. Sure, it sounds like something the crazy lady from down the road would bother you about, but when you’re experiencing it firsthand it’s really quite an extraordinary experience. As you travel through the game, you’ll adventure through a whole range of emotions, from happiness to fear to great sadness.
This is all tied together with a control system that’s easy to get to grips with and keeps you immersed in the game. Whereas other games may attempt this by flailing your arms around or occasionally playing twister with you controller, Journey manages to keep your interaction to a minimum by using just a couple of buttons and the analogue sticks. One thing that’s good about this game is that it doesn’t lead you by the hand every step of the way, even when it comes to what the controls are for. As you walk onwards a little, you’ll find stones that only say ‘hold X’ or ‘hold O’, without any description as to what these will do. This further adds to the idea of exploration as you’re forced to find out for yourself just where these actions will help you proceed.
While traveling through the vast land, there are only two abilities required in order to complete your journey – those of flying and using your voice to charge your flight, allowing you to dip and dive for longer periods of time. Although they’re not always necessary to move further ahead, you can’t really complain when you’re soaring through the skies as free as a bird. In some areas, the puzzle will involve you climbing to the top of a building or the next platform and so your abilities aren’t just a cheap gimmick but rather a well thought out addition to the game.
As you leave one area and prepare for the next, you’ll be greeted with a short cutscene relaying the path you’ve just taken and the one that you’re just about to embark upon. The beauty about these are that they’re extremely short, being careful not to drag you away from your interaction or immersion and done in a very artistic way. You’ll watch the story unfold in the style of cave paintings, being created right in front of your very eyes, giving the feeling that you’re looking back upon your journey and right now you’re etching it onto rocks for people to see in years to come.
All of this is experienced through the eyes of your character, who has no true identity. Due to this, they can be whoever you want them to be, whether that’s a young female looking for inner fulfillment or a nomad finding their way home, everyone’s experience is going to be different and that’s what puts this game above the rest. You’ll find yourself creating a long back story as you wander on, as well as thinking for and almost becoming the character, personalising your experience even further.
You’re not always alone though, not if you don’t want to be. You’ll often meet up with other people playing the game who you can choose to follow or leave, yet you must do so without saying a word. As you’re traversing the vast areas, you have no idea who your partner might be, no name, no way of talking and so, it would seem, no interest in keeping them by your side. However, you’ll soon come to realise that although you know nothing about them, you’re still sharing your journey with them and each step builds up feelings and friendship between the two of you. Often, you’ll find yourself waiting near the exit of the ‘chapter’ for them to catch up, just so that neither of you are alone and you know that each other is moving forward towards their goal. What seemed impossible to begin with becomes reality by the end and no doubt you’ll be celebrating the end of their travels just as much your own, it’s really nothing short of magnificent how a simple game can create a link between two strangers. It’s not all sentimental though, having someone by your side means that you can charge each other’s flying ability without having to search for the special objects, which is certainly helpful if you want to glide along the sand without a care in the world. Until you fall of course…
In order to make you drift further from the path even more, thatgamecompany have added a few extra collectibles into the game, not that we needed any more incentive to stick our noses in every nook and cranny. Balls of light and special walls that can produce extra cave paintings with your magic ability can be found dotted around the world for you to find. Although they’re only a small addition to the game, they’re obviously still well thought out and ever much as beautifully placed as everything else in game. Sometimes they’ll be right in front of your eyes and other times they can only be found with a little puzzle solving, though nothing as big as the main quest. They serve no purpose (except that of trophies), but no doubt you’ll still find yourself running around for hours on end trying to finish your collection, for no other reason than personal accomplishment. Rarely does a game make you feel this way about items so small, but that’s just another reason why Journey is one of the best games you’ll pick up this year.
One thing that can absolutely ruin a unique idea such as this is the artwork, sure the idea is gorgeous in itself but a few pixels out of line on the drawing board can cause the whole game to flop, heading straight to the nearest charity store. Fortunately for this game, that isn’t the case. No doubt you’ll have seen screenshots of the game while it’s been in development and the most noticeable thing about them is the use of the cel-shaded art style. This isn’t done in many games as it’s hard to pull off well and usually doesn’t fit the mood of the majority of games, a cel-shaded Call of Duty just wouldn’t work would it? But when it is used, it’s often given the games that sought after edge (such as The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker). Journey pulls it off so easily and it immediately looks like one of those examples that you’d flaunt in the people who argue that “Videogames aren’t an art form!”’s faces.
Along with the art style, the colours themselves appear so striking as you play, the desert gleams in the sun and everything blends into one large entity apart from you, the main character. You stand out a lot against all the environments and it really puts emphasis on the idea that this is your journey, your own personal adventure through a world that may not seem all too colourful (but definitely a world that is bright. Bring shades.) Not only are the still images something to admire, so too is the animation. To say it’s a short game available for just a few of your hard earned pennies, it offers a fantastic framerate meaning that the animations are all as smooth as a bald man’s head. Even more shocking is that it hasn’t been boasted about in the lead up to release because it just doesn’t need to; the game is strong enough without having to fall back on such small yet significant things.
Journey is silent as far as voices go, no-one speaks and the story is told solely through your actions and the music. Right at the very start, music builds up to tell you about this huge adventure you’re about to embark on, it grows softer as you admire your surroundings, becomes energetic when faced with danger and fills you with hope later on. The notes you hear tell a much stronger story than words alone ever could and the great thing about it is that music is universal. No matter what country you play it in, you’ll understand how the character (and by extension, you) is feeling and this fact is really thought provoking in that you realise, maybe for the first time in your life, that people all around the world are all on their own voyages through life right now, just like you. The lack of lyrics or speaking in this game is what really speaks to you.
Rather than being an action packed shoot-em-up that grabs the world by storm by shouting as loud as it can, Journey is one to sit in the corner, waiting for people to approach it and really discover something new about themselves, without you realising it at the time.. It’s the hidden gems like this that keep the PlayStation 3 alive. A perfect 10/10 and the Cubed Gamers’ Golden Star award!
Disagree? Feel free to share your ideas in the comments. Are you sure you’re playing the same game as us?