The long and winding road…
After the well-received releases of flOw and Flower, thatgamecompany return to the digital download arena the with the intriguing title Journey. Does it live up to the success of the unique titles before it, and is it a voyage worth taking? Read on to find out.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Reviewed on: Playstation 3
This review of Journey contains no spoilers.
Journey begins with your robed character waking in a desert that stretches as far as the eye can see. With nothing but a silhouette on the horizon to aim for, you stand and begin to carve your way through the shimmering landscape towards the vision in the distance. As you struggle up the steep dune, fighting through the waves of sand, a mountain appears in the distance and your Journey begins.
Whether it’s the deep earthy oranges or sun bleached white stone, Journey’s colour palette makes it one of the most visually striking titles around. The seamless blend of simple textures with more complex rendering creates a rich and diverse world to travel in, complete with architecture that feels historical without ever appearing familiar.
Sand and dust behave with startling realism, and whether you’re sliding down a steep dune or being caught in the midst of a violent sand storm, the visual impact and behaviour of these particles is truly mesmerising. Combined with the elegant lighting that drives Journey’s mood expertly, you have one of the most enchanting visual experiences seen on any console to date.
Journey does offer a lot more than its synonymous desert setting, but the surprise and beauty of what comes later is something I wouldn’t dream of spoiling for anyone.
There isn’t a single word uttered throughout Journey, but its haunting audio captures the ambiguous nature of its environments perfectly. There’s more to it than just a slow and peaceful score. Journey also builds tension and drama quickly through its excellent sound design with stunning results. The most powerful moments come when there’s not a pin-drop to be heard, and it’s this depth in Journey’s audio which goes beyond the boundaries of genius on more than one occasion.
Journey makes wonderful use of the Sixaxis to control camera movement, matching up to the fluidity of the studio’s previous titles. Beyond that, Journey is simply a two button game with cross, circle and the left analogue stick used for manoeuvring your character.
Walking and sliding through sand will keep your character moving, but once in contact with ornate cloth your character is able to fly, soaring effortlessly across the landscape. The charge the cloth provides degenerates over time, which means you’ll need to link your airborne moves with other areas of cloth strategically placed throughout the game.
There are also unique glowing symbols to find which make your character’s scarf slightly longer each time you collect one. The longer your scarf is, the more charge your character can hold, allowing you to fly higher and for longer. This mechanic forms the basis of the entire game and you’ll need to use it wisely to solve the games many puzzles that ultimately advance your journey.
Many of Journey’s chapters are based on problem solving, but there are some interesting twists on the formula which involve fast paced action and intelligent use of camera movement. Only a few of Journey’s chapters will see you facing genuine peril, but the fear these moments invoke, provide a stern reminder of your vulnerability.
The gameplay is ambiguous in the extreme and much of Journey’s mysteries will only reveal themselves to you in time, but it’s the fluidity of motion which is the real joy, and the simplicity of control only amplifies the game’s beauty rather than detracting from it.
If there is one concern, then it’s Journey’s overall length. From start to finish, the game will take you around three hours to finish, but you’ll want to play through it again to try and unearth the many secrets that unwittingly passed you by. However, whether you should play Journey again is debatable, as its spine tingling glory is felt strongest in your first playthrough. If played again, that feeling might be ever so slightly tainted.
Journey will stir emotions in you that most other games would only dream of. Heavy Rain is the best comparison, but even such esteemed company doesn’t do justice to the masterpiece that is Journey. It’s completely encapsulating from the first second to the last, and it’s without doubt one of the most genuinely beautiful games you’ll have the pleasure of playing.
Whether the rumoured price point ($15.99) is too high for the content on offer is a minor bone of contention, but every once in a while a game comes along that changes everything, and Journey is that game. You’d be a fool not to play it and who knows, you might just meet other curious travellers along the way.
Journey will be available on the Sony Entertainment Network on March 13th in North America and March 14th in Europe.