Saturday, March 17, 2012


Developer: thatgamecompany
Publisher: thatgamecompany
Adventure - PS3
1 Save Slot
1 player / Online Multiplayer

Art Game

That's what someone said to me, when I mentioned I picked up Journey. I wasn't sure what I was in for, but it seemed like this game was getting a lot of acclaim. Although I haven't played them all that much, I have had exposure to thatgamecompany's previous games, fl0w and Flower. Even though Journey is a much different beast, it has a familiarity to it that is very much in line with the other two games. But what IS Journey?  What do you DO?  Well, that's a lot harder to describe. And that's also part of the point.

You begin the game as a nameless face dropped off in a sprawling desert. There's no hand-holding, no automap, and no explanatory cutscene that puts the game into context. All you know is that you are there, and your field of view immediately centers upon a mountaintop in the distance. Everything in between is the journey.

As a game, you don't have much at your disposal. You can walk. You can interact with just a few things in the game. But there's little else. Early in the game, you acquire a red scarf. You'll see ribbons with a similar design scattered throughout. Interacting with those ribbons charges your scarf. And your "charged" scarf allows you to jump and float for a small duration of time. You're able to increase the length of your scarf, and hence float time, by finding these specific markers throughout the game. With just the ability to float and interact with a select few objects, your goal in each stage is to find the path to the next. But Shadow of the Colossus this isn't. The puzzles and platforming are quite lite.

Journey is about the experience. It's about the feeling of pursuing a single-focused goal, and not quite knowing what to expect as you explore the process. And although you could say that about any game, Journey is perfectly choreographed. Although the visuals are somewhat minimalistic in design, how they're used can be utterly breathtaking. You get the sense that every angle and every frame was intentional, even though the world is fully 3D. The moody orchestrated music only accentuates the intentionality.  Everything works together in tandem, and succeeds.

Make no mistake. This is an art game. On gameplay merits alone, Journey is a bit on the shallow side. There's little in the way of hand-eye coordination and puzzle logic.  And what's there refuses to put up much of a challenge.  Even the ability to find extensions to your scarf to increase float time is convoluted, because you don't even need any of them to finish the game. Still, you've got to admire the pretentiousness of it all. What thatgamecompany set out to do, they accomplished. They blended gaming and art in a way no other medium could have. Best game ever? Hardly. I enjoyed the Journey for what it was. At $14.99, I can't help but feel it's overpriced, beauty and all. The $10 threshold would make it much more appealing. It's ultimately not all that fulfilling, even with its artsy shell. Nevertheless, it's unique in what it does and that makes it worth a playthrough for me.

As a side note... since this doesn't really fit the flow of the review, I'll just mention that the online multiplayer is automatic. Other "Journey"ers will show up in your game in real time, and their presence helps enhance the feeling of the journey. You can't really interact with them, aside from being able to charge your scarf through contact. But their presence makes the journey feel like you have a partner walking alongside you (or apart from you, depending on the players).