Sunday, July 8, 2012

#6: Journey - A Detour

This week's game is Journey, a downloadable title for the PS3.

"But wait a minute", you might say. "That game isn't on Steam! It's a PSN exclusive!" And you'd be correct. So it looks like you'll be getting a detour from your regularly scheduled Steam games in the form of Journey.

Ahahaha. Travel puns. 

The thing is, Journey intrigued me from the moment I laid eyes on this art right here:

I wasn't going to wait to play it any longer. So I forked over the full price $14.99 for it on the Playstation Network on my PS3 and played through it in one sitting (the game is only a few hours long).

I don't think there's too much I can say about this game without actually ruining some of the experience for others. I would feel dirty if I knew I reduced another player's enjoyment of such a wonderful experiment in gaming.

So I'm going to tread very carefully here and cover some of the reasons this game is awesome and hopefully spoil as little as possible.

Journey tries as hard as it can to let you forget you're playing a game. There is no user interface. There's just you, the traveler in the reddened-copper colored cloak, on a journey through a world that boggles my mind with how gorgeously rendered it is. I am a sucker for cel-shading, and while I'm not sure if this game is technically cel-shaded, it doesn't matter because it still won me over immediately and only got better from there. If you're not a fan of deserts, don't worry. You visit several different (and equally extreme) locales, but none of them feel like video game tropes in any way. A good thing.

Welcome to 10 minutes into the game. This isn't even in my top 10 coolest parts of the game, honestly.
This, however, is probably one of my favorite parts of any game ever made. Only more gorgeous in motion.

The primary game play mechanic (in the sense that you need it to get through the game) is gaining "charge" for your ability to fly gradually upward / float. You gain it by charging up and emitting a kind of pulse that will gather it from any nearby objects that have a certain kind of tapestry pattern on them. The amount of oomph you have stored up is shown by how much of your scarf/cloak is illuminated. Sound weird? It's actually excellent. It creates some really amazing sequences . . . At one point, you soar around with some flying living tapestries as they share their charge with you. Incredible stuff like this happens all the time.

Few things are as satisfying and freeing as the surreal flying sequences in Journey.

During your journey, you will occasionally run into another traveler. You have no means of direct communication, yet somehow that only seems to strengthen the bond. There's some strange automatic desire to travel with them. . . because otherwise, you are utterly alone. And besides, with a bit of teamwork, you can travel faster and further together than alone.

They are there, traveling with you toward the same goal. You'll find yourself strangely saddened if you ever lose track of your partner. Somehow, you build a wordless connection together with this other player.
It is fitting that in the end, this is a game about the journey, not the destination. Where you're going isn't really that important. What is important is where you go on your way there, and who is by your side . . . I'm tempted to say this is a heavy-handed metaphor for life, but it's really too wonderful of an experience to use a description with such a negative connotation. It blurs the line between art and game.

If you play games so that you can beat games, don't bother playing Journey. This game isn't made for you.

If you play games so that you can have novel experiences that put you in memorable situations, so that you can find yourself transported hours into the future carrying the spark of your journey with you when you're done . . . Then you should play Journey.

Happy travels, everyone. I'll see you soon with a return to our regularly scheduled programming.

Thanks for reading. Please comment and follow/share/bookmark/staple/lick this blog if you enjoyed it! And if you have any suggestions for what you would like to see in future entries, please leave that in the comments as well.