If you are a gamer, there are times when it can seem as if there are almost too many games for the paltry amount of time you have allocated for this most noble of pursuits. Some games are epic in scope and can happily devour entire weekends, leaving you failing to sort your laundry out for Monday morning and forcing your flatmates to call the police as the door to your room hasn't opened in a while.
Others are background noise - you dip into them for a couple of minutes, harvesting your birds, guessing what farm the other guy was trying to draw and otherwise managing an airline of football players.
Then, once in a while, something comes along that is small enough to be played through in a single sitting but will demand your complete, undivided attention and provoke a truely emotional response.
|The objective is always visible. Head to the light!|
Journey is a short experience - if it takes you longer than 2 hours to complete, something's gone horribly wrong. It also comes in at a tenner from the PSN store. If you're looking at those figures and lamenting the 'bang for buck' factor, let me nip that in the bud right away. Forego your next cinema trip and get downloading.
Journey simply has to be played. Once you reach the game's conclusion, it will leave you feeling in such a way that the purchase price seems paltry.
Thatgamecompany has previous in 'arty' games beginning with the letters 'Flow'. Their previous games were noted for their art style and refreshingly relaxed gameplay rather than balls-out competition or triple A content devouring. Journey continues this proud tradition with a particularly stylised world and characters.
As the name suggests, this game is about a Journey. The player's character starts in the middle of a desert and must make his way across the world to a very large mountain, on top of which is a bright light. Why? Who knows? But it must be done.
Actually, before I go much further, I should probably explain that Journey is very much about the experience rather than the game itself. As such, it could be tricky to try to explain how awesome it is without spoilers, but I shall endeavour to do my best.
So, hero - check. Obvious destination - check. We're good to go!
The controls are simplicity itself. Your interaction with the world consists of jumping and shouting. Okay, maybe not shouting, but 'pinging' doesn't quite sound right. Suffice to say that one button launches you into the air and another emits both a sound and an expanding sphere.
It's this sphere that forms your primary interaction with the world - flicking switches, releasing captive, er... floaty bits of cloth and restoring energy to your ally. This makes the co-op aspect excellent. On you're own, you're limited by your energy levels. With a partner, you can team up and achieve so much more.
|Much better with a friend.|
Ah yes - your ally. Provided you're playing the game whilst connected to teh interwebs (and if you're not, you really need to sort that out soonest) you will encounter another player in the same world. This person will accompany you on your journey and will rapidly become your very best friend whom you will care about deeply. I mean it - this mystery, random person whom you'll never meet get to meet in real life, will mean more to you than your immediate family.
All of this with no traditional method of communication as well - all you can do is shout and yet that one outburst can come to mean anything from "come here" to "watch out!" to "I'm so glad you made it through that last bit without getting squished by a giant, mechanical, flying snake".
The main character moves around the world in quite a stylistic manner, especially when it comes to surfing down hill. In fact, there are a few snowboard games that could learn a thing or two about how good it feels to carve down the side of a bloody great hill.
|A wonderful surfing sequence.|
At many locations, you'll come across ancient ruins and the like poking out from the desert. Some of these ruins contain weird, flying bits of cloth that can be released with a shout. The grateful cloth things will then restore your energy as well as increase your maximum energy level. This is represented in the game world by the length of the player's scarf and the glyph markings on it. Along with the likes of Dead Space, it's a fine example of how to present important information to the player without simply resorting to a HUD.
Some flying things can also boost you up into the air or even transport your along as if your were part of their shoal. You'll float along and soar above the landscape whilst chirping... cloth things flit about around you. Like the desert snowboarding sections, these sequences are very uplifting indeed.
In fact, if I was to pick a single word to describe the entire experience, I could do worse than "uplifting". Apart from the parts that provoke a far more distressing emotional response of course, but that would stray into spoiler territory and that's just not my style, Shin.
It's been emotional
That's the point though - Journey is about the experience rather than the actual game. The challenges you face aren't particularly tricky and are less about gaming prowess than making you experience a particular emotion at a prescribed point. Basically, this game makes you "feel" more than most other titles. Plus it does it all without voice-overs, overlays, character exposition or any of the other tricks employed by other titles. You just relate to and empathise with the main character to such an extent that you really care what happens to them.
Not since Ico has a computer game made me, er... worry about the eye-wateringly high levels of dust present in the room, especially at the ending.