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.
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.