A Masterpiece Takes Time
Over the past year or so, I have come to really appreciate games that set out to do something completely different to anything else available on the market. Journey is a game that is brimming with excellence; with it's beautiful vistas, stunning soundtrack, alternative but powerful approach to storytelling and it's minimalistic but satisfying gameplay. Journey is a game that will be remembered for years to come and will leave a mark on anyone who lets it.
Apart from climbing buildings, sliding down sand dunes and scaling the various ancient structures you find with the left analogue stick you can shout with 'O' and fly with 'X'. The shout is used for communicating with your co-operative partner (if you choose to have one) which considering it's simplicity (the only thing you can modify, is the intensity of the shout) is surprisingly useful. I was paired with someone who had already completed the game at least once, and he/she was showing me each collectible by floating over to it and using the shout to bring my attention to it. My partner also used it to see if I had perished when I fell off this cliff, when I realised that I was somehow still alive I shouted back to inform him that I survived.
The shout can also be used to activate the various mystical talismans that you find while traversing the desert and shouting at the collections of fluttering cloth that you find will boost you into the air and will give you an additional boost when trying to reach platforms that are above you. But, you don't need to use the magical pieces of cloth to escalate into the skies, you can float up using your own powers. The amount of time that you can rise into the air is determined by your scarf. If your fully charged, there will be a silver highlight that will extend all the way to the end of your scarf and will slip away as you use your ability, your scarf gets longer and longer as you play through the game and thus the time that you can spend flying upwards increases. Both flying and surfing down the sand dunes are both clearly physics driven activities but, both forms of movement are really enjoyable and take some skill to master. It is really satisfying to slide down a mountain of sand at blistering speeds and launch yourself off a cliff and have to manage your float ability by applying some lift and gliding for a few seconds to get the most amount of distance possible. The game definitely feels different at first but, after a few minutes it feels like an extremely natural and calming way of moving through the environment.
You may not know this but, Jenova Chen (creative director at thatgamecompany) is a big fan of Call of Duty, and is well aware of the general consensus on the amount of rude, obnoxious people you will cross paths with while playing online with people you do not know. Journey's solution to this problem is to matchmake you with a random person and do not show you their PSN ID and voice chat will be disabled. This resulted in my best co-operative experience with someone that I do not know to date. I played with one person from start to finish who had completed the game previously and would go out of his way to help me find the collectables and keep me away from the dangers that we faced. I was genuinely concerned when he was put in danger and appeared to be dead, I used my shout to see if he was still alive and thankfully he returned with a shout to indicate that he was alive. We always stuck with each other and would play little tunes (using the shout) back and forth as we made our way to our goal. After the uplifting conclusion to the game you are given the names of those you played with, I immediately sent him a message thanking him for staying with me from start to finish and for being such a good partner, I also sent him a friend request which I have never done to someone who I didn't know. So congratulations thatgamecompany, you have figured out one solution to the problem that has deterred many from playing online.
The story in the game is presented in quite a passive fashion, you are not explicitly told why your character wants to head to the shining light at the top of the mountain and a lot of it is left up to your own interpretation. Each area will have a scene inscribed onto a wall that explains where you are in your Journey, and what challenges you are about to face. I was confused as to exactly what was going on for a good 20 minutes but, my confusion was amended at the end of an area. Due to it's ambiguity it is very easy to get absorbed by the world once you start making assumptions about what each challenge you face in your journey means, the conclusion is a very uplifting event that left me feeling pretty good for the rest of the night. The only point where the story would fall apart is if you played the game in more than one sitting, it is consistently building momentum throughout the game, the ending would not have the same impact if you played through the game piece by piece. So set aside an hour and a half and play this from start to finish, you will get a lot more out of the experience.
The sights and sounds of Journey are amazing. The warm colours of the desert and the various other colour palettes for the environments in the game look superb. I was consistently in awe of the game and would stop every now and then to take in the beautiful scene that I was presented with. The soundtrack is also fantastic, which ranges from some sombre ambient pieces, to more grand classical tunes some with or without vocals. The game really benefits from it's live orchestra recordings which sound really good, the music blends seamlessly with the game and really amplifies the experience. Journey also has beautiful, flowing animations. The way the sand moves as you slide over it, or how your cloak flutters in the wind as you glide over the sand, it all looks magnificent. The game also does a good job of changing it up and keeping it varied, whether it be a change in music, a visual effect applied to an enviroment or a switch from a puzzle area to a 'sand surfing' segment. All of the transitions feel gradual, which is impressive considering how the game changes from start to finish. Journey is without a doubt one of the best looking and sounding games to date.
Journey is a excellent game that everyone with a Playstation 3 should play, it is the only game that I have ever played that completes it's goal to the fullest extent and strives for and achieves excellence in every facet. You have to go into this game with an open, and willing mind and must set aside the time to complete it from start to finish. I can simply not give this game enough praise. After playing Journey you can see why it took 3 years to create a game that lasts an hour and a half, it takes time to create a masterpiece.