E3 2011: Journey Hands-On Preview

We shuffle our way across the sandy dunes looking for signs of life in Thatgamecompany's next PlayStation Network title.

Journey was one of the last games we saw at the Electronic Entertainment Expo last year, and it left such an impression that we've been eagerly waiting all year to see more. It will be the third PlayStation Network game for Thatgamecompany, founded by Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago, who described Journey as a parable, if you considered Flow a haiku and Flower a poem. Thatgamecompany's philosophy is about exploring the wide range in the emotional spectrum, tapping into emotions that are generally left dormant when playing video games.

There's more of a story in Journey than in Flow and Flower, but it's a story that you'll have to discover on your own. The game is abstract and artistic, and you'll find that it's easy to get lost in this beautiful world that's covered in shimmering sand as far as the eye can see. You play as an individual shrouded in red cloth, moving gracefully in the sea of sand, sliding effortlessly down the dunes. The camera pans back periodically not only to give you a clue as to where you need to go, but also to give you a better sense of the vast landscape and just how tiny and isolated you are. A mountain in the distance looks to be your goal, and as you head toward it, you'll stumble upon several old ruins, as well as swirling bits of cloth that you just can't help but collect. Cloth seems to be the only thing that is alive in this world, and the only thing keeping your character cloaked. Around your neck is a scarf with curious symbols that elongates as you pick up white scarves in the desert. At this point we could move around only with the analog stick and rotate the camera with the Sixaxis controls, but every time we stumbled across other bits of red cloth, we were able to jump and glide through the air with the X button. The ability to jump is limited, though, and your scarf is an indicator as to when this charge runs out.

Each level seems to get progressively bigger, or at least it feels that way. We were told that we would move on to mountainous terrain, but each level introduced some new scenery, such as waterfalls or new intricate structures, so at this point, there was really just a lot of glowing sand and hills to climb and surf down. It didn't take long to find the gate to the next area in the first level, but the second level requires that you hold the circle button at several key points to activate a large flowing carpet, which connects the remains of a bridge that leads to the next area. At each majestic gate, you hit a series of stones that chime and light up. A figure will appear before you, similar to yourself, shrouded in a bright white cloth. It gives you a vision or perhaps a flashback, and when it's over, new symbols are added to your cloak, and the gate opens for you to move on. It's clear that your goal is to not only reach each gate within the level, but also piece together what has happened in this isolated land.

The purpose of the demo was originally to let us play online. But due to technical difficulties that were unrelated to the PSN debacle, we weren't able to get online. Chen described the online experience like a hike and said that you may run into someone along the way. If you do, you can choose to stay with the person or continue on. There are no traditional forms of communication--like gamertags, lobbies, friend invites, voice chat, or texting--but we weren't told what form of communication we would have access to. He also added that this is not a single-player or multiplayer cooperative game, but an online experience that lets you play on your own, or collaborate or compete with others. We were told that people come into your game one at a time and that the game searches for people who are located in the same area as you so that you can run into them. Whether you decide to meet up is up to you. Like when you bump into someone during your trek up a mountain, you can decide to make the journey together or continue at your own pace, and there's always the possibility of bumping into the person at another point. Our UK counterparts did get to see a demo of the online portion earlier this year, which you can check out right here.

The journey of life is always more interesting with a friend.

We hope to get the opportunity to explore the sandy universe of Journey to learn more about its lore and to see how another player could affect our game. Moving around the desert landscape was effortless, although the uphill climbs did take a little longer, so collecting cloth that would let us jump and float was a much faster mode of transportation. What appeals to us the most is its abstract form of storytelling and that the experience is entirely up for personal interpretation. While the levels and control schemes are not finalized, the game so far does achieve one of its goals in regard to exploring emotions. The soft sounds that your feet make as you slide and shuffle across the sand and the elegant music that plays add to the mysterious yet soothing atmosphere. The audio also highlights how utterly alone and incredibly small you are in this massive world.

We hope to have more online details for you at the Electronic Entertainment Expo next week, so stay tuned to GameSpot for more updates.

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27 comments
bostadskontrakt
bostadskontrakt

"The journey of life is always more interesting with a friend". You write that about every game with co-op. Acually when they think of it, it is a standing truth that every game is better with co-op and singleplayer games are for suckers with no friends. Still searching for someone to ever write "luckily there is no co-op, this game is best playing alone".

Krinnium
Krinnium

i love the sense of scale they successfully imparted

smtgfx
smtgfx

Wow. This is going to be good. Well done to the developers.

chyng85
chyng85

There's an impaction in my heart~ Pretty colorful~

Lord_Tigger
Lord_Tigger

I feel all floaty just watching the video...wheeeeeeeee so peaceful...

ProSmeg
ProSmeg

woah. im stunned. this looks beautiful. very tranquil.... i feel so calm. ahaha

shadow655
shadow655

The Last Guardian & Journey look amazing! Can wait to see more of them at E3!

Jhaller90
Jhaller90

@fabz_95 try the Flower you will know what it is like its very calming relaxing and very artistic and and colorful a taste of heaven I say

SavoyPrime
SavoyPrime

After playing Flower, I'm definitely looking forward to this!

fabz_95
fabz_95

Journey looks beautiful, I didn't know much about the game until now but I'll be keeping an eye on it.

jddawg0808
jddawg0808

Exactly the way I wanted this game to look. Team Ico's games are the best games in the world. Hopefully this game will be the first to capture their atmosphere and gameplay.

Entropy730
Entropy730

this game reminds me of the cartoons and tv shows from when i was a kid. they started phasing them out when i got a little older but the late 80s and early 90s tv shows that were so colorful, educational and inspiring that gave off a sense of the mystery of the universe being beautiful and a giant, fun adventure for everyone. now they've made tv so boring a dull and empty. i couldn't imagine being a kid with the crap they have nowadays... but anyway, this game reminds me of those early days of my childhood. adventure, vibrant color, and the mystery of the universe that we're all apart of and discovering on our own or with someone we run into online. this game looks... i don't even have a word for it

DiamondSlicer
DiamondSlicer

So incredibly unique and inspiring. They've done it again.

palmakoy
palmakoy

i can t put my finger on it but this game just grasps my imigination, this is a definite buy for me.

MissObvious
MissObvious

This looks like it will be a really fun and unique game...can't wait to try it out whenever it's released!

aaaaaa12
aaaaaa12

flow and flower are the most awesomest games ever and journey will be awesome too sony has the best developers like thatgamecompany

JadeJi
JadeJi

this is the case where the idea of "less is more" is smartly used in game graphic design i think:)

Pawfalcon
Pawfalcon

Gotta love a unique game that looks this good

Crazyguy105
Crazyguy105

Really hope it gets released sometime this year. The art direction is beautiful.

eddy96_1
eddy96_1

really looking forward to this. The artwork looks stunning

SubZezo
SubZezo

This game works in mysterious ways XD.

antoniobandino
antoniobandino

AWESOME. The art design is literally beating my eyes into my head...this will be the first downloadable game I'll have ever bought.

ZMAX23
ZMAX23

This game is beautiful, just a fine artistic attempt in the flow of stereotyped predicted games that come all the time, my respect to thatgamecompany

Hirasugi
Hirasugi

So mesmorizing. Now this is the experience I want to have after a long day of work...as opposed to being sniped, then proceeding to be cussed out by ADHD-saturated 14- year olds, spew every obsenity in existance and them some.

robbob8888
robbob8888

Wow. I want this game so bad. It looks so beautiful. And different.