A Jaunt Worthy of Praise

 

Every once in a good long while I manage to stumble across a game (and I use the term in the most loose of senses) that not only defies the very medium it exists in, but also blows my mind and captures my attention so fully that other games go neglected. One of the first games like this was Flow; a game I stumbled across quite by accident. No one told me to check it out, pointed me in the game’s direction, or handed me a copy. I saw a quick bit about it on some game site, thought it looked interesting, so I went after it myself. I started playing the game quite innocently then I looked up and realized almost eight hours had passed. That being said it is no surprise thatgamecompany, the same people responsible for Flow, caught me again, this time with Journey.

Journey, at its core, is less a game and more just a dynamic interactive visual experience. I first used adventure, but really calling it an adventure is as limiting and misleading as simply calling it a game. It is something more, and yet far less. Most games will lay out a clear set of directions for you to follow. Like a set of LEGO instructions you follow these until you come to the end and realize you’ve made yourself a very fine race car. With Journey they hand you an entire bucket of LEGOs and say “Yes, there is a race car in there if you want just that, but there is also so much more; limited only by you.” Once you begin sifting through the excess of pieces and building whatever it is you can imagine you finally see all that Journey has to offer and you slowly begin to grasp what you’ve been handed. I’m a big supporter of indie games and studios so I didn’t even bat an eye when I tossed them the $15 for my chance to experience Journey.

The gameplay is wonderfully minimalistic; two buttons do things (one chirps, the other lets you fly), the sticks move you or the camera, and you take on the role of a simple hooded figure in red. Your goal is to make your way to a far off mountain by crossing a desert full of ruins, puzzles, and mystery. The story, as much as one exists, is told through animated cut scenes that resemble mosaics and murals painted on walls; almost like hieroglyphics. The visuals are amazing, beautifully rendered canyons, dunes, and the remains of some ancient civilization await you along the way; and the sand textures look incredible as you walk/slide/dash your way across the desert. Clocking it at roughly two hours to complete the entire game the real draw is in both the replayability and exploration. Once you complete Journey you are shown the credits, more wonderful visuals, and finally left back at the first hill of the game, where you can restart the trip all over again. No matter how many times you play through you come across new things or ideas each time; it is the exploring of the game area that really gets you hooked. The search for more glowing symbols to make your magical scarf longer (the scarf gives you limited flight powers), or murals that highlight more of the world’s past, or easter eggs from previous games the studio developed. Even playing the game three times in a row from start to finish, exploring more and more on each subsequent run, never felt like I was playing the same game over and over; it more felt as if I was still playing the game for the first time with each new discovery.

Journey also boasts a unique and wonderful type of multiplayer element. Somewhat akin to Dark Souls where you would occasionally see ghostly forms of other players drifting in and out of your game while they played their own; you will find yourself running across the occasional other little hooded figure. There is no way to know who this other person is, you can’t see their player name nor can you talk to them aside from the simple chirp your character is capable of emitting. All you can do to this other entity is decide to walk with them or ignore them completely and continue exploring on your own. The two of you can help each other out finding things, solving puzzles, or allowing your scarves to recharge so you can fly again. During the credits you’ll see a list of all the people you met along the way (the number of people you’ve met can actually surprise you since there is little to no way to distinguish one person from another).

While there has been much debate lately over what game developers owe us gamers, how their content should be presented to us, and what their responsibilities to their fans might be, Journey adds a very take it or leave it scenario to the debate. Take the wonderful visuals, the addictive exploring, simple childhood wonder it offers up; or completely dismiss it as too easy, too short, and too sparse. There is no great fanfare at the end, there are no bosses to fight, no levels to grind, no xp to earn. No, there is just the path. Finally a game that not only understands but celebrates the saying “it is not the destination that matters, but rather the Journey.”

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About Jeremiah Cochran

The last minute addition to the party that really brings it all together. Let's face it how else could you get past that Balrog without your Gandalf? (Yes I just compared myself to Gandalf, deal) A fan of comics, video games, sci-fi, fantasy, rolling dice, and tapping cards. Essentially he's the nerd renaissance man. Also he can cook. And do laundry (sort of).

Posted on March 20, 2012, in Reviews, Video Games and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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