Journey review: A true gaming experience

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Image by ravensong75

A-another review? WHOA! CHEEESE SLOW DOWN! YOU’LL HURT YOURSELF SOMEHOW! I suppose… that’s probably pretty unlikely. Although my wrist does hurt sometimes… Anyyyyyways, today I have yet another review for you – this time of the much acclaimed indie game and PS3 exclusive Journey by thatgamecompany. I hadn’t realised until I actually sat down to write about this that there’s actually very little I can tell you about this game without giving everything away, so I’m not going to be going into the ‘story’ at all.  What I can tell you was that this game was truly an experience and I’m really glad that I decided to pick it up. Honestly, it didn’t really look like my kind of thing at first.  I’m not too big on games that are quite as artsy as Journey. And artsy it is. However, after 10 minutes of playing it, I suddenly realised it wasn’t what I expected at all. Far from being a pretentious indie game that tries a little too hard to make an impact, Journey turned out to be a sublime, thoughtful and genuinely emotional experience that will have you mersmerised for the 3 hours it takes to play the game. I don’t necessarily it’s the best game in existence as I’ve heard some say, but I do think it’s GOTY status was well deserved and that it’s a must-play for those of you who are up for something a little different.

The thing that surprised me the most was that Journey was actually a still very much a game. I expected something more along the lines of TFOL – barely interactive and more like watching an animated movie than playing a game, but that’s not what Journey is like at all. In Journey, there’s tons of game-y platforming elements and exploration. You’ll find yourself hiking up hills, surfing down sand dunes and even flying. The moment you discover how to fly is an exhilarating moment that is difficult to put in words. To fly, you use scraps of cloth and the more you collect the higher you go and the longer you can soar.  I found myself quickly addicted to the sensation and the weightlessness. I won’t go into the controls too much, because discovering them for yourself is definitely a large part of the fun. The platforming elements are pretty mild and not all that challenging, which good to an extent as that means the game can focus on what it does best – being a meaningful experience full of imaginative imagery and sounds. 

Like I’ve touched on before, Journey is an emotional game that reaches unbelievably joyous heights and also dark, lonely depths. There are no words or dialogue throughout the whole game, other than right at the beginning and the credits at the end. Even the ‘tutorials’ are presented visually and with very little information, so that you’re left to explore the world and your character for yourself. It’s incredible, but Journey somehow manages to infuse you with a staggering range of emotions without ever having to really say anything. The whole experience feels very organic and personal as the game never really tries to actively explain anything important or explicitly guide you. There is a story of sorts and there are places you have to go, but the hints that lead you on the right path are very very subtle and the meaning behind what you see is left up to your own interpretation. It’s a work of art in the way that many games aren’t and don’t try to be. Like I said before, I’m not going into the story at all, because I feel I should leave it up to you guys to experience and interpret for yourself.

Image by ravensong75

Image by ravensong75

The fact that this game can’t rely on traditional ways of communicating ideas to players means that it has to find other ways to show you instead. Since there are no words, what you see and hear becomes very important and on this front, Journey does not disappoint. The graphics are incredible and the art style truly unique. There are vast breath-taking vistas that show off an incredibly beautiful and varied world dotted with mysterious ruins and broken structures. As you progress and the landscapes change from gently sloping deserts to towering ruined fortresses and what you see will set the tone of the level. The stirring music has the ability to not only match what’s going on at the moment, but to set the mood along with what you’re seeing. Journey’s soundtrack can make you feel like you’re really through the soaring or instill a sense of fear and nervousness. Unlike other games, the soundtrack isn’t just an accompaniment to the game, it’s an integral part and without it Journey wouldn’t have been what it was.

Last, but not least, there’s the multiplayer, where players are anonymous and automatically connected. You have no way of knowing who you’re playing with and you can only choose to work together or part ways or something in between. At first I was a little self conscious and unsure of what to do with this random presence in my game and with no rules to guide the interaction, but then I found myself beginning to rely more on my partner and communicate with him or her through beeps (your only way of doing so). I discovered that exploring the world of Journey with someone else enriched the experience and made the trek across vast barren landscapes and ruins much less lonely. There was a level of companionship that I haven’t experienced in many other online coop experiences – you can’t really talk, you look and sound almost identical and so there’s none of the judgment you usually find online. Of course, you don’t have to team up with the people you meet along the way. You can navigate through the levels by yourself and completely ignore the other speck on the huge expanse of sand, but other than the company there are other reasons to help each other other out. In particular, being near each other will help you both fly higher, which in turn will help you reach places that would otherwise be tricky to get to on your own. don’t want to go into too much detail as to how that works as you’ll have to find that out for yourself. I lost a few partners, sometimes thinking they were right behind me or waiting for me at the exit. Losing your friend is surprisingly sad. Surprising because I wouldn’t have thought that meeting up with a random person online that I’ve never seen or spoken to, other than through beeps could be something that would actually make me feel sad, but it did. It feels like a profound loss and trekking through mountains and ruins by yourself suddenly seems much lonelier.

Image by ravensong75

Image by ravensong75

There were a couple of things I wasn’t too fond of, but I think they were largely personal preference or disappeared the more I played it. The lack of explanation took a little while to get used to. I struggled a little bit at the beginning to figure out what I was supposed to do, but that might just my impatient gamer mentality where I’m constantly trying to progress. Once I slowed down and just relaxed, things started happening naturally. There’s a giant mountain with a light on top, why not just walk towards it and see what happens? Once I stopped worrying whether I was going to right way or what I was ‘supposed’ to be doing, I really started to enjoy it.

I really like Journey, but like with TFOL, I prefer my games to be a little more game-y and while exciting and interesting, Journey was not exactly a challenge. It was definitely more of an experience than a game to beat. That’s just a personal preference though and I can completely see why people are head over heels in love with Journey. I did love it too, but I certainly wouldn’t say it was the most fun I’ve had with a game this year. Personally, I thought a slightly better balance between gameplay and graphics/music/story would have been preferable for me. 

Journey achieves a level of emotional connection that many games can’t despite all the words they throw at it. While I wouldn’t say it was my favourite game of 2012, but it’s also one that I won’t ever forget either.  I think that if you approach it like something to be experienced rather than a traditional game you’ll enjoy it a lot more. It was an incredible game and will hopefully provide inspiration to other developers by proving that thoughtful, artistic games will have a place on gamers’ shelves.

Does Thirty Flights of Loving live up to the hype?

Most of you have probably heard of Thirty Flights of Loving. Everyone seems to have been going on about this game since it came out, raving about how it’s one of the must-play games of 2012. I was extremely excited to play this short first-person… game? Interactive story? Experience? Whatever it was it sounded amazing, intriguing, life-changing even. Maybe that was the problem, that I had such high hopes for it. When I got around to finally playing it this week, I was left with a sense of… well, disappointment seems a bit of a strong word, but my mind was certainly not blown like I expected it to be. It’s like when you go to a fast food joint and  order a burger, which looks lip-smackingly delcious in the picture, but when it actually comes you realise that it’s tiny, the cheese looks like plastic, the sauce looks like it’s about to give you radiation poisoning and…. well you get the point. It wasn’t quite the masterpiece that I had expected. It also seems that I might be in the minority about this.

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Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that TFOL was a terrible game. On the contrary, I actually though it was quite good. I have to give Brendon Chung some major kudos for creating such a well-thought out, tightly narrated and original game (at least in terms of design). The story of a heist gone wrong is told through a series of short scenes that move you backwards and forwards through time. In the process you catch glimpses of the road that has led your character to this point in time, poignant little snapshots that leave you wondering, but always dancing around that moment where everything fell apart. It undeniably packs an emotional punch. The pacing is incredible, always tightly wound with brief respites before you’re thrown back into it with a frenetic new energy, with not even one second wasted. It’s cinematic, it’s beautiful, it’s charming in its simple and blocky graphics. It’s atmospheric. It’s whimsical. It’s poignant. The soundtrack perfectly complements the mood in each scene. In fact I think it’s the soundtrack composed by Chris Remo that truly made this for me.

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