Wednesday, March 28, 2012

GOT 'IM - Journey

Well, that was fast. It took me right around two hours in one sitting to finish the new release from PSN superstars thatgamecompany. Heeeeere's Journey.

I beat Journey in a single sitting, but I feel that was the intention. Journey is an action game that is absolutely gorgeous to look at and entertaining start to finish, but can be easily beaten in ninety minutes. In Journey the player is a faceless caped figure who resembles a classic nomad, whose distinguishing features are a flowing red cape and white sash. The only controls are basic walking and camera movement plus a jump/glide button (your glide is limited and is "powered" by glowering markers on your sash) and an "action" button that plays a tone and interacts with nearby objects.

Anyone that's every played a videogame will understand Journey's basics immediately. There is a glowing mountain in the distance, and you must travel across a desert (and eventually through caverns, through ruins, and up said mountain) to reach its peak. Getting there requires you to activate bridges, glide and surf over the dunes and hills, and float using the aid of other moving objects, made of a ribbon-thin or carpet-thick red material just like your avatar's cape. The most complicated maneuver your character executes is playing tag with kite-ribbon-things in order to open a door or create a bridge.

If those objectives and mechanics sound simplistic or generic, well, they sort of are. You'd perform more elaborate operations in the very first stage of a Zelda or Prince of Persia game. The joy to be found in Journey is getting there. The game has no explicit storyline other than "get to the mountain" and there are no words or dialog anywhere in the entire narrative. And it manages to feel special. Journey's visuals showcase sand and similar particle physics, scenery that creates an incredible sense of scale, and incredible artistic use of light and shadow. When you slide down sand dunes like a roller coaster, the sand shimmers like gold dust; when you're avoiding giant eel monsters, the colors of their lights contrast the rest of the room in such a way that adds to the sense of dread. Journey makes an incredible use of color, light, and shadow that it's worth notice. Definitely the best artistic visuals I've experienced since Shadow of the Colossus.

The game's sounds are also pretty impressive. Journey's soundtrack is strings-heavy and inspiring, enhancing the mood of a particular stage flawlessly every time - my favorite moments of the musical score are when it gets more upbeat and takes an exhilarating angle, when the journeyer is surfing or flying. When you "communicate" with other players via the action button, you can create different tones depending on the rate of your button presses. It's bare-bones and there are no words, but it really feels like you're communicating.

Oh, I suppose I hadn't mentioned the multiplayer yet, had I? Well, Journey has multiplayer. But it's the most organic multiplayer I've ever heard of. As you journey onward, you can meet other journeyers identical to you. You can collaborate with them (you can restore gliding power just by standing next to them instead of searching for another ribbon), ignore them, or frustrate them by drawing the attention of the giant monster eels or something, but the obvious angle is for collaboration. Maybe it's because of the total lack of real text and actions-only communication, but it's easy to get attached to your temporary companions. It's distressing when they disconnect or leave (they dissolve into dust) and I was genuinely upset when I lost track of one long-time companion in the second-to-last stage of the game. Amusingly, the player is not informed of the PSN IDs of the players he or she has met during that playthrough of Journey, but you see a list of them during the end credits.

I'm going to cut the bullshit and wrap up: Journey isn't an epic adventure you'll sink dozens of hours into, but it is a unique, gorgeous experience with multiplayer that's... oddly moving. If you have fifteen bones to spare in your PSN wallet, you could do worse but not much better.

Games Beaten: 2012 Edition

1. Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins
2. Radiant Historia
3. Mass Effect
4. Mass Effect 2
5. Breath of Death VII: The Beginning (Hard mode)
6. Grandia II
7. On the Rain-Slick Precipice of Darkness - Episode 2
8. Mass Effect 3
9. Journey

Targets: 2/12


I guess I should have expected it, but that was a quickie indeed. Now it's time to shelve the PS3 for a bit and play some more Wind Waker. Gonna take me at least a few weeks, I'm guessing. On the side I'm enjoying some Star Ocean on my PSP and some Sword & Sworcery on my recent-birthday-present-iPhone. Good times. Let them roll.

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