Game In Review - Journey
by, 28th May 2013 at 02:43 PM (165 Views)
Greetings everyone, how are you all today on this sickeningly cheerful Saturday afternoon? Well I suppose that’s better than expected. Time for another game review I think, this time Journey.
Journey, the brainchild of Thatgamecompany and Sony, was released just over a year ago in March 2012, which makes me question why I never played it sooner. While a standalone game, Journey is technically the third in a contract of games, the previous two being Flow and Flower , two astonishingly good and inarguably successful games and Journey is no different, picking up several awards after its release including 2 Game of The Year awards, 5 BAFTAs, 6 Game Developer Choice Awards and a Grammy nomination, as well as consistently scoring 9s and 10s out of ten from practically every well known game reviewer. Apparently, playing Journey should be considered an honour and a journey itself.
The story for this game is simple – you are a robed figure that wakes up in the middle of a desert, there is nothing around except a giant mountain with a glistening light and you begin a journey to reach the summit. That is the story, anything else you decide to add is entirely opinion. The key behind the story for this game is ambiguity. I could mention the white figure that appears in cutscenes and tells you a story through a cave painting or the ruins of a civilisation you must wander through in order to reach your goal but all of that is effectively unimportant unless you decide it is. The story is so powerful because there is one, but it is up to you to make it for yourself. Personally, I decided my character (called Sa’scanti) was travelling to the top of the mountain in order to save her people from the brink of extinction, hence the ruins, the white figure, etc. I know it’s cliché but it made me happy.
However, and I hate to say this because I don’t really consider this a whole criticism, more of a half one, but the game is short. Like 3 hours short. I’d say it was a disadvantage to the game but it doesn’t detract away from the experience at all. The game remains just as good despite its length but I can’t help feeling that they could have added so much more to the game if they’d made it longer. The game was originally meant to be created in only one year, and actually created in three years, making a lengthier game impossible to make but if there were ever a remake to this game, I would hope that they made it longer, since right now there’s a bit of desert, a bit of an underground tunnel and a bit of snowy mountain before the end. Lots of critics call this game “emotional” and “powerful”, myself included, and I understand that a short and simple storyline is not exactly bringing about any emotions apart from disappointment when you reach the end. That is because I have yet to mention the joy of the gameplay.
Like I said before, in Journey you play a robed figure. Like the story, the key behind the gameplay is its simplicity, the left analogue stick and the O and X buttons are all the controls you get. You can tilt the controller to move the camera or you can use the conventional right analogue stick but that doesn’t really matter. What matters is your scarf that gets longer as you progress through the game and find magical glowing glyphs in the world to extend it into a flowing ribbon. You will find symbols and ribbons all across the game which “recharge” your scarf and allow you to float by pressing and holding X. This is your jump button. Sometimes, there will be creatures or objects that only react to your character speaking. Pressing O will emit a shockwave-ish thing, which I can only presume is speech that will make these things work. In a world of complicated controls and having buttons assigned to a vague operations, such as “Square = Interact”, it is refreshing to see game in which there are buttons to spare, linking to the half-disadvantage I mentioned about possibly adding more features. The O button is by far the most important button in the game but while the O button is integral to completing the story, it is most important with co-operation.
Beyond a shadow of a doubt, Journey’s best feature in the game is its random co-operative experiences. As you travel on your journey, random people across the world also playing the same part you are can automatically join in, creating a sense of camaraderie and friendship between the two of you. You’d think that last sentence was sarcastic but it really isn’t. Once again, Journey’s simplicity factors in; there’s no speech throughout the entire game, the only way you and your newfound companion can communicate is through pressing O and emitting a noise. Without knowing if the person on the other end of the robed figure is another soul searching Sa’scanti or just a d*** who’s playing the game to prove it is s***, it is impossible to judge and therefore immediately start as friends. Because you don’t know if this other person has played the game before or is also on their first run through, you each rely on each other to find out how to get through the not-so-taxing puzzles and are genuinely sad when they sit down to meditate and then disappear because they quit the game for no apparent reason. Some people would say this makes the co-op limited but I think it’s perfect and honest and extremely difficult to ruin. They stripped the multiplayer down to its bare essentials and I’ve never seen anything more innovative, except maybe the Hitman: Absolution multiplayer.
It’s here I’d like to pause for a moment and talk a little about the production values that do evoke the emotions the game heavily promotes, sound and appearance. I cannot stress enough how aesthetically gorgeous the game is, and on such a large scale. Starting off in the middle of a vast, sandy desert is a great way to make you feel small and insignificant right away and that combined with golden sunlight is a sight to behold. The tunnels are dark and enclosed in comparison and there were a few moments when a surprise threat appeared that I felt scared for Sa’scanti, my companion running beside me and for myself. The snowy environment of the mountain is equally bleak and terrifying and really fills you with no hope until the end when you actually feel a sense of accomplishment. There were so many moments in the game that I wished I could screenshot and put as my desktop background and I could not stop telling myself that this game was amazing, something that had not happened to me since I first played Heavy Rain. The soundtrack was so good I immediately bought it from the Playstation Store as soon as I finished the game. It combined the scale of the game, the exoticism of its concept and a power ballad in there somewhere for the final push and I am listening to it now as I write this review. Everything in the game is streamlined, from the animations that were smooth as silk, to the dynamic lighting that cascaded down monuments and swept across the sand, to the level design (if it can even be called a level, more like world design); surfing down a sandy embankment and soaring through the air on a magical scarf was more fun than I have had in a video game for a while and the character design for Sa’scanti was so unique, I would pay to see more developers think like Thatgamecompany.
Journey is not a game, it is an artistic experience. It is original, inspirational and stunning – a brilliant game that promotes sharing and feeling. Every part of the game has something that warrants a positive comment and I don’t know if it’s my narrow minded view of the game but I thought there were very few problems with it and the problems aren’t even problems, they’re just things they can improve on, and they are the only things stopping this from getting higher than a 9/10.
Rating – 9/10
Final Thought – How many games can actually boast “no loading screens”? And how many of those games aren't developed by SCE Santa Monica Studios? That’s what I thought.
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