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Journey Review (PS3)

- March 13th, 2012

thatgamecompany follows up flOw & Flower with their most emotionally-charged masterpiece yet

by Matt Dykstra

I’m sad that in modern gaming it’s still so rare for games to provide a genuinely cathartic experience.

Sandwiched between formulaic first-person shooters and machismo action-adventure titles, we gamers have a penchant to skip over downloadable endeavors in favour of triple-A, blockbuster releases with monstrous advertising campaigns that demand our attention at every turn.

But then there’s developers like those at thatgamecompany, who time and time again push the boundaries of game design with risky choices to offer truly unique experiences. Who would have thought a game about a flower pedal drifting in the wind over an open field would have been so immersive?

I’m happy to say they’ve done it again. The PlayStation Network exclusive Journey isn’t just a delightfully well-crafted game, it’s a shining example of how washing away modern game design cliches can result in one of the most beautifully realized experiences ever created. Ever.

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Interactivity is the core difference between video games and other mediums, and Journey sets itself apart from other games by allowing the player’s natural curiosity to ease them into exploring every facet of the game. You won’t find a map of controls at the start of Journey.

After pressing start, you’re placed in control of a hooded figure, dressed in sweeping red robes that clash against the hot, bright yellow of the sand of the surrounding desert. In the distance, an enormous, seemingly-mystical mountain casts a bright beam of light into the clear, blue sky.

The first thing you’ll realize about Journey is the wonderful art direction. You can tell the hooded Journeyers travel over the sandy dunes began with an artistic eye for detail. As you wander past what appear to be gravestones of Journeyers of long ago, the swirl of the shifting sand is eye-poppingly gorgeous.

From beginning to end of it’s short but sweet three hour playtime, you’ll be dazzled by thatgamecompany’s visual mastery of colour and space.

You discover early on that the controls of Journey are simple, yet elegant. You can only move, jump and sing your way through the environment. The length of your Journeyers scarf determines how high and far you can soar and finding ancient, glowing glyphs scattered amongst the ruins allows you to lengthen your scarf.

The controls are an imprecise science. The flight/jumping feels like you can never gauge exactly how high you can go, and instead you’re exploring your reach with each and every leap. Singing allows you to unlock more scarf pieces to refresh your scarf for a new jump as well as open triggers and doors.

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Journey’s sense of pace and scale serve the exploration of the environments very well. The entire adventure overflows with that Shadow-of-the-Colossus-esque feeling that you’re but a small part of a larger picture.

My favourite thing is that Journey automatically -with no prompts or permissions- syncs your trek with another Journeyer. I played the whole game with three different people popping in to tag along in exploring the ruins’ heights with me. You can’t invite friends; you’re paired anonymously.

You can’t chat, but you can tap the sing-song speak button to communicate. It’s a form of multiplayer that works so effortlessly. You can ignore the help of a companion and trek alone, but sticking together allows both players to keep their scarves bright and ready to take off in flight.

The highlight for me personally is the score. I’m no musical maestro, but the riveting symphony of strings always perfectly matches the mood and setting for the journey and in the later stages of the game, makes your heart leap in your chest with joy.

The music, like every aspect of Journey, is used wonderfully to communicate the game’s themes and setting. Likewise, the sound of the howling wind or the echo of a large chamber are pitch perfect.

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There’s no traditional story presented in Journey. Instead, you’re left to interpret the meaning of your trek for yourself by via in-game murals and strange visions. Without spoiling the end of the game, Journey captures the trials and tribulations of life itself, leaving me with a feeling of genuine awe.

I haven’t played a game that emotionally impacted me as much as Journey since I was a kid. That’s Journey’s real triumph. Journey makes games and the nature of the interactive media new again. You’ll feel like you’re discovering what games are for the first time.

I’ve completed Journey five times now, and it will forever cement itself in my mind as nothing short of perfection. Journey is interactive art in it’s purest and most meaningful form.

matthew.dykstra@sunmedia.ca

Follow me on Twitter @SUNMattDykstra

 

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1 comment

  1. vax | July 23, 2012 at 3:14 pm

    what´s the meaning of the game???

    it looks boring… what do you discover or do within the game itself???

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