Monday, March 12, 2012

Review: Journey

Journey is a PSN title made by thatgamecompany, the same developers behind Flower. Similar to Flower, Journey is a very different game. You don't have points to gain, an objective to achieve or any tangible reward except by the game itself. And playing Journey is a reward.

The game starts in a desert, where your character, a being covered in a vest who is part monk dress and part dessert dweller, looks at a mountain in the horizon where a beam of light shine at its peak. There is no narrator or text saying what you do, so you move towards the mountain. Controls are very basic, with left analog to move, right analog and SixAxis to control the camera. The Circle button is used to interact with elements in the scenario and to communicate with any other player journeying with you (more on that later). The X button is used to jump and fly.

While traveling, you will find glyphs of light that give you a scarf. This scarf grows as you find more of such glyphs and it is this that give you the ability to jump and fly. The longer the scarf, the longer and higher you can fly. It is not necessary to find all the glyphs, and while the game become easier and more forgiving to mistake with a longer scarf, you can probably finish it with just the initial size.

As you advance through the game, you will find several beings made of tapestry, in a style similar to your vests. Using the Circle button will activate them, many times recharging the scarf. See, as you use it, the glimmering glyphs on the scarf disappear and you will need to recharge, and those tapestry entities do that for you.

The game sometimes will blend your journey with some other player's journey. You don't need to cooperate with the other player and your interactions with it is basically using the circle button to use visual and audio signs to it. It is a nice feature and sometimes you met people trying to show you some secret of the game, or just doing their journey and ignoring you. You just discover with whom you have played after finishing the game.

The game can be considered a puzzle game and it is pretty straight forward. As long as you move towards the mountain, you will figure the path you need to take. There is no need to exploration, except if you want to find all the light glyphs. But you don't need to. The vast, beautiful scenarios are always in eye sight. It is not just desert, also, there is several different scenarios you see, but I will avoid spoiling the game for you.

There is no story in traditional sense of the story. At the end of each chapter of the game, you will be granted a very short intermission, where a white being similar to your traveler, but taller, will show some stylized paintings that moves. It is very open for interpretation, and probably different people will make a different interpretation of what Journey's story is about. I am very impressed by it and by its subtlety and have my own theory. But I advise anyone interested in the game to don't search for other's interpretations and make its own, as this is part of what the game is about.

This game is probably one of the best game I have played. It is a lesson on game design. It doesn't have obtrusive HUDs remembering that you are in a game and you rarely and very shortly lose control of your traveler. It shows you what to do in a very intuitive manner and tells you a story without words. I really think every single game designer must play this game.

Technically, the game is beautiful, with amazing landscapes and environments. The soundtrack and sound in general are the highest praise I have to give. It is a musical and magical trip.

On the other hand, a thing many can see as a flaw is the fact that the game is short. You will spend 2 to 3 hours on your Journey. If you give value on the length of a game, this may hurt you, since at a US$15 price tag, it can be seem as pricey. But it is a incredible experience, that you will probably play several times and it can give you a more pleasurable experience than many longer games priced at the same price or even higher. Also, this time may be exactly the correct time. You may not want to stop till you finish it, and a shorter game can give you the chance to do it.

So, you must be asking now if you should buy Journey. My answer is:

Buy it: If you are open to new experiences, believe that games don't need to be all about killing and competing and completing objectives, but also about the time you expend with them and what kind of emotions they can cast on you. If  you don't value the length of the game, but how much pleasure you can take from it.

Avoid it: If you measure value by length and believe games must be objective and give you clear things to do. If you believe games must be about tangible rewards. If you want 'more of the same'.

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