What I’m Playing: Journey
Last week I finally ordered a PlayStation 3, which officially makes me a 3 console owner. It feels like a long time coming and I’m not entirely sure how I made it this far without the console, but its neither here nor there. There’s a lot of catching up to do.
One of the first games I wanted to try was Journey. I’ve known thatgamecompany for some time now through the game Flow, which I played on my PC long before it was ported to the PS3. Elegant and simple, it seemed like Kellee Santiago and Jenova Chen had a firm grasp on how to design a game that could give you a lot using very little.
There aren’t many controls in the game. One button allows you to fly for brief amounts of time and the other acts a lot like Link’s Ocarina in OoT, letting you summon whatever mystical thing is in front of you with the touch of a button. The gameplay seems intentionally simplistic as the focus is on the journey and not how many platforms you can double-jump to. In fact, gameplay-wise there is a lot of hand-holding in getting your character from place to place. Again, the game does not seem very interested in difficulty and much more interested in telling you a story. I can’t say I mind that, but it makes it difficult to want to play again.
The game’s protagonist has a clear destination in mind, voiced only by the sweeping landscape in front of them: that huge light on top of a giant mountain in the distance. I couldn’t determine if it was a he or a she, but being a guy myself I’ll go with he. As he moves forward that mountain looms closer, the light burning ever-brighter. At one point he is sucked into a great underground labryinth, only to emerge at the mountain’s base, ready to ascend it. There aren’t many obstacles in the way, other than the occasional creature that resembles a stone dragon, who knocked me out cold several times. The only other obstacle is the game’s narrative, which you are at the mercy of following for better or worse, this being a very linear game.
But come to think of it a lot of the platforming games I’ve played in the past tend to be extremely linear. I would be hard-pressed right now to name one that gives you significant choices along the way as far as story is concerned. Sure many platformers have an over-world from which to choose your next destination, but they always converge on the same storyline. Journey might be making some statement about the way most of these games play out, but at the end of the day I think this was just the best way to go for simplistic gameplay and a focus on delivering some sort of message, whatever that may be.
I came away from it rather impressed by the actual journey, less so with the destination and payoff. Its fair to say I didn’t know what the payoff was suppose to be in the first place, so I guess that’s fine. There is a strong encouragement to start on a second play-through of Journey right after your first, which is what probably brings us to the cooperative portion of the game.
Along the way I encountered seven different real people who were also playing the game (although I didn’t know how many it was until the actual ending where the credits told me). These would-be guides often led me through some of the less straight-forward parts of the game as well as simply accompanied me while I figured things out. One of the most moving parts of the game was the ascent up the mountain, which left my character bitter cold and with no energy to fly, but whenever a companion huddled close to me we would both gain energy, as if we were warming each other. Most of the time other players seemed to be veterans of the game, watching as I played, but I could never confirm it, they never talked to me or anything. But now that I am done with it, the game wants me to be one of these guides for another player’s journey.
I may pick it back up again in some time just to see what that would be like. There are some secrets to find and a few collectables, but I didn’t find them very enticing compared to other games of the genre. One thought I had was to play synchronously with a real friend over voice chat, going through the entire 2 to 3 hour journey at the same time, hoping to bump into each other in the game’s space by chance.
Although I didn’t want to really write a review about it, I would have to say this game must be played for the journey and experience alone, but there’s no shame in falling in love with the imagery or music either. I found these were the strongest qualities of the game and elevated an otherwise short experience to something that had huge production values. Leave presumptions about how much a game is worth by factor of time, because you won’t find that here. It literally is about 2 to 3 hours tops and with minimal difficulty at that. Come for the journey, stay for the lasting impression it will give you, I think that’s worth any price of admission.