In this blog, I want to talk to you all about a very special new downloadable game for the Playstation Network. Journey is the most recent game from ThatGameCompany, which many of you might recognize, as I do, from their previous PSN game, Flower; it was a very imaginative game that actually managed to make good use of the motion control in your Dualshock 3 controller, and the idea of freely directing the wind to blow around flower petals in beautiful environments was quite fun and relaxing. And so with the announcement of Journey, I was moderately excited for another similar experience. When Gamespot gave away beta keys, I jumped on the chance to take one, and while I had a good time with the beta, I had some mixed reactions. The developers still seemed to want to make motion control a part of this game, but tilting a controller to change the camera in a third-person adventure game is a lot different than it was in Flower, and it just didn't feel right. I was pleasantly surprised when the beta was patched and the developers added the ability to control the camera with the right analog stick as well, and I once again found myself interested.
Fast-forward to just a few days ago, when Journey was getting ready to release. I had largely forgotten about it and only remembered because of the ads I saw. I remembered having a fun time with the beta and since I was wanting a new game that could distract me from the constant action and intensity of Battlefield 3, I really thought about buying it. Then I saw the ad in the PSN Store that stated if I pre-order it, I could get an "exclusive" dynamic theme. Well, that tiny little extra pushed me over the edge (because I'm gullible I suppose), and I'm very glad that it did.
For starters, Journey costs $15 and is about a 2-3 hour game in terms of actual content and the amount of time you choose to spend exploring the levels as you play. So you could roughly say that it's about $5 per hour for this single-player experience, not counting the replay value. Call of Duty games are full titles with campaigns, multiplayer, and co-op...but if you strip it down to just the solo experience, it's still $60 for about 6-8 hours, and so it could be nearly $10 per hour if that's all you want to play. It's not the best comparison, but it's worth considering.
Now, to the actual meat of this game, and try to stick with me here. You play as a red-robed figure in the desert, with a dark face and skinny legs and no particular gender, though the figure does appear to be a little feminine. You have no name, and you begin the game sitting in the sand, gazing up at a shimmering mountain peak in the distance. The game gives you no narrative and only a basic instruction of the controls for the first few minutes, though it's very obvious that the mountain is your goal. And once you leave the top of the first sand hill, your quest begins. This is a very difficult thing for me to describe, because so much of the appeal of Journey is discovering it for yourself, in your own interpretation. Essentially the gameplay consists of you progressing through different areas of this mystical world, and as you try to forge a path into each new area, you'll need to likely do some light platforming. You'll also want to explore in order to find hidden glyphs, history messages (which convey a bit of the backstory about the quest and area), and other secret items. You can collect pieces of fabric which will increase the length of your character's scarf as well, and the longer your scarf happens to be, the more boost you can get by pressing the X button. This boost allows you to lift into the air and glide with your cloak, which allows you to reach new areas and also allows for faster travel. You'll need to recharge your scarf by collecting new fabric every time you use some of your supply, however, though there is a way to earn the ability to have a self-recharging scarf, if you're willing to put forth the time and effort exploring in order to get it.
There are two different ways that you can play Journey, and each offers its own feel. If you choose to play offline, you will travel alone, isolated in the environment and dependant only on yourself. ThatGameCompany has done a truly remarkable job at making you really relate to your character in these situations, and you might even start to feel a bit lonely out there by yourself after a while. I recommend to all newcomers that they play through Journey totally solo their first time, to genuinely experence this level of emotion. Afterwards, I recommend going back and playing while signed in online. You won't automatically be given a partner or anything like that. Instead, you will continue along the Journey exactly the same way you did before, but this time, you might eventually encounter another player. If you choose to do so, you can pair together on the trek, or you can separate and continue on alone. You can't see their PSN ID, you can't communicate in-game or with a headset, and the only way you can interact with them is by pressing circle to "chirp" a musical note. This is actually a very brilliant move by the developers, because this level of anonymous co-op fits in absolutely perfectly with the natural emotions of this game. When you meet another wanderer in the desert after plodding along alone for a while, what is your natural instinct? You'll probably want to walk beside them for a while, see what they do, and join them. This really does allow the players to choose whether or not they want to make a friend or help out somebody else, and it feels right. One other very interesting aspect of playing with a buddy is that when you get close together, almost to the point where you are touching, you cloaks will glow and both you you will recharge energy. Not only is this very helpful in terms of gameplay, but it does a wonderous job of giving you a metaphor about the power of having somebody else by your side.
When I first played Journey, I did it offline. I played through the main quest in about two and a half hours I'd say, and I enjoyed it a lot. The sense of isolation, the mystery, the relaxing pace, the beautiful art, the enchanting music...it all combined to be a very memorable experience, even though I was somewhat confused by the whole backstory and the ending. Overall I actually enjoyed it more than Flower, though both are very good games. Getting online to play the second time, I decided that I wanted to hunt for the hidden items and perhaps try to get a few of the trophies, even though there is no Platinum to work towards. It wasn't too long before I met my first partner, and at the beginning, he wanted to stay close to my side. I let him lead for a while, then he let me lead. When he saw that I pretty much didn't know where I was going because I was wandering around and trying to locate glyphs, he broke away for a bit. Then we joined up again, and then broke away. I wasn't too concerned about it, and continued along my way. Eventually I entered a stage near the end of a chapter in the quest, and I saw another person. They looked at me for a bit, and we chirped a few times. I turned around to check out an area for any secrets, and when I checked back, they were gone. Again, I wasn't too phased. I was just about to initiate the end-of-the-chapter cutscene when I see yet another new player floating down on my side. This player was different, for they were wearing a white robe.
Now, because I had browsed the forums for a while before going online, I knew what that meant:they were pretty much an expert at the game (I don't want to spoil how they got the cloak). I chirped a few times to show that I was excited to see them, because I was really hoping that they could help me find some glyphs so that I wouldn't have to aimlessly walk around for hours upon hours, not that I wouldn't have done it anyway. They stood still and chirped back at me a few times, and we traded a few short musical notes together. Then they began moving back away from me, and they glided up by some ruins on the edge of the wall in the area. I followed suit, and sure enough they were showing me where a glyph was hidden. I chirped out a "thank you" and collected it, and we initiated the cutscene together. Afterwards, we continued along the game side-by-side. I let them take the lead, and stuck right behind for the most part. They gracefully showed me the best path through each area, and lead me to every hidden item that could be found. They also stopped and waited for me if I got hung up behind, so that they could recharge my scarf for me. As we got into the final section of the quest, I was extremely grateful for all that they had shown me. After all, this person already knew all the in-game secrets, and had no reason to find them again other than to help me out, and I was a complete stranger they met in the desert! As we slowly plodded along near the final section, I was sticking very close, and we were almost hugging each other as we walked together.
Suddenly I saw them stop, and then sit down. I was surprised, and I also stopped to see what they were doing. After a few seconds, I witnessed my faithful and kind partner vanish before my eyes. I was stunned, left standing alone with the wind blasting in my face and rippling my cloak. Slowly and sadly, I resumed walking forward, pressing on to the finish on what was now a solitary trip. After a few more moments, the game displayed a message saying that I wasn't connected online anymore, and then after a a short bit, I got a message saying that I had been disconnected from PSN. Apparently, all that had happened was that my internet had gone out. After all, it was about 3:45 AM. But what really hit me was the level of emotion that I felt. I actually felt sad that I had lost my partner along the way, so close to the end, when we had shared such a great bond over thelength of the adventure. I realized that along the way I had made a friend, and now they had left me alone (or rather, my internet had caused them to leave me). What other game had ever replicated that deep level of care in me for a person I had never even met before? The answer is none. No other game ever has. Finising the game alone and seeing the final dramatic cutscenes by myself was fun, just like it was the first time when I had been offline, but it seemed...more empty. Bittersweet.
I have spent a bit more time with Journey since that story I just related occured. I have acquired that same white cloak for myself, and have found almost all the in-game secrets. I don't have all the trophies yet though, and I'm not sure if I'll go for them. On the surface, Journey feels more like a traditional video game than Flower did. But that is simply not the truth. Journey is a deep, beautiful, emotional adventure that rivals some of the better animated films out there which try to accomplish the same thing. The difference between Journey and one of those movies, though, is that you are directly involved in this quest, and other people can be as well. Journey isn't for everyone...if you don't like slow games, stay away from it. If you like to be entertained with pulse-pounding action when you play as opposed to being relaxed and letting yourself become emotionally immersed in a gaming experience, then by all means, pass on this one. But if you want to play a game that can pull at your heart, calm your mind, and dazzle you with beautiful sights and sounds, I strongly encourage you to check out this game. Part visual art, part musical art, part exploration game, one full quest. One full journey.
Thanks for reading and for enduring the length. Please comment and God bless.