I read the early reviews of Journey and was annoyed that they wouldn’t tell you much about it. Now, after playing it, I see why. A lot of the joy of older games, film or books was in the exploration. You were finding out new and exciting things. Now in a world of reviews, online walkthroughs, extensive marketing campaigns and simple word of mouth on social media, there is precious little of that left. So this is going to be a short review in which I tell you very little about the game.
Journey is a game in the same vein as ‘Flower’, a previous PSN hit. In Flower you controlled a breeze moving flower petals around a vast plain, bringing the world to life as you passed. There was no way to die, or to lose, and the whole thing probably took less than four hours, but it was beautiful. The art style, the music, the controls, the ambience, it was beautiful. Journey carries on in this regard, it may not follow the conventions of many games, but is all the better for it. There’s a greater degree of challenge than flower if you want to get all the trophies, but I can imagine infants possibly even finishing this game and getting as much out of it as adults do.
At work the other day a colleauge who is a parent came over to me to tell me about Journey. She said she doesn’t ever get involved with games but saw her son and husband playing it and gave it a go, and she loves it. Journey is simple, intuitive, and engaging. I’ve heard of people playing through the whole game in one sitting, but I personally had it on a PS3 upstairs and played it in short bursts before I went to bed, or when I woke up in the morning on weekends. Each area takes arond thirty minutes or so depending on how thorough you are so you can easily play for a little while then put it down.
The controls for the game are simple. The left analog control your movement, the right controls the camera. You can also use the sixaxis to control the camera, a feature I wish they’d let you turn off as I kept looking at the floor unintentionally. You press X to jump, and O to sing a note, which does all kinds of things throughout the game. When I say all kinds of things, it becomes more than the developers might have even intended. The game allows you to play it the way you want to play it to an extent and you’ll find yourself using the tools at your disposal to try and do quite complicated things.
It never feels as if you are being pushed to do anything in a certain way, there is an easiest route, but then there are alternatives. You’re not punished or even particularly rewarded for them. I love this style of thinking in games. There was a level in Goldeneye on the N64 where you had to infiltrate the base in Siberia. The map seemed huge at the time, and you could approach it in so many ways, without really any advantage one way or the other. It feels as if relatively few games allow this kind of freedom rather than making it mandatory if it is offered at all. Not only can you align yourself different ways in Fallout, you must to get the achievements. This ruins the choice for me.
The graphics are spectacular. Journey has taken the cue from many games this generation and completely done away with a UI. Everything you need to know is displayed in the clothes your character wears, and if you never noticed them, you could still easily finish the game. The shimmering sand in the opening doesn’t look realistic, but not quite like a cartoon. The closest comparison I can think of is if you have ever seen high-quality illustration at an exhibition. It’s detailed and rich but also quite sparse and open. I would absolutely love to see this on the Vita’s wonderful screen. The sound is similarly captivating with gentle orchestral music subtley shifting dynamically in response to your actions in the game.
As you can probably tell I am smitten with this game. It is exactly where I think games should be heading. There is a place for blockbusters but they will find it harder to survive in this economy. Indie games with charm, sophistication, and accessibility are going to become more and more important. I’m not going to tell you your objective in this game, or how it plays out, you can find that out for yourself. And if you enjoy the experience take a look at Flower, or Minecraft, or Heavy Rain, or Limbo. Games don’t need to be all about saving the world or winning some kind of competition. Sometimes they can just ‘be’ and that is good.
+Split into manageable chunks
+Accessible even for non-gamers
– Camera control on sixaxis cannot be disabled
– I suppose it is very short
Journey is available to buy on the Playstation Network Store for £9.99