Preview: Journey

You can’t help but be captivated by thatgamecompany’s considerable, yet slight presence; Jenova Chen’s knowledgeable wit and Robin Hunicke’s effervescent charm a captivating combination – one that’s instantly spellbinding even as their latest game sits idling on an attract screen.

But the elephant in the room, Journey, is a weighty one.  Sitting atop our list of one hundred games to watch this calendar year, the logical (if not canonical) follow on to Flower has high expectations, and as I listen intently to what the duo have to say, I can’t help but wish for the gameplay to begin.

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When it does, with the cloaked figure gliding effortlessly up the sandy dunes we’ve seen in screenshots meant not to tease but to prevent spoilers, I’m hooked.  In those fleeting few moments, the sense of a bewildering unknown sprawling out from your feet, Journey changes from a game we’ve often thought about to one that we won’t ever forget about.

It’s easy to be hyberbolic when you’re still high from the fumes, but Journey represents everything I adore about videogames.  As Chen himself tells us this afternoon, games are currently about power, about killing, about shooting – about who’s strongest.  Journey flips this all around with a startling disregard for trends and fashion, and makes the player a weak, small, isolated entity.

As with thatgamecompany’s previous work, the exact requirements of the player are left to them to discover as you find yourself awake, alone, in a desert – but we’re shown glowing obelisks, stone structures and mechanical devices seemingly long forgotten.

Everything has its place, explains Hunicke.  We’re not told why, not yet, but we’re shown what can happen when the player interacts with certain objects amongst the mysterious ruins that pepper the huge playing area offered by the game – additions, supplementary changes to your outfit, for example, or the ability to temporarily fly amongst the sandstorms.

And unlike other games, anything you collect isn’t yours to keep – it’s borrowed – thatgamecompany keen to emphasise that in this game, you are that tiny spec seen from outer space: you are alone, small, and apparently insignificant.  So whilst your scarf may glow white to show you have a new ability, if it’s used the fabric will be left behind, requiring further collection.

Ribbons that dance in the wind, figures that sit juxtaposed against the wilderness, giant gears that jut from the tundra: Journey is a game of wonder, of discovery, and as Chen and Hunicke are all too keen to show, it’s one best experienced with another.

Not that you’ll know who that other player is – a white glow at the side of the screen may alert you to another’s location but you won’t ever know who it is; their name, location and intention hidden away behind their own plain garments.  Intentionally, Journey benefits from the freedom only seen when interacting with complete strangers.

You can ‘call’ out, a simple signal that, along with jump, marks the only button input (the left stick moves you and the camera is controlled by tilting the controller) and that’s the extent of the communication.  It may seem rudimentary, but it’s so clearly defined and so brilliantly done in game that you won’t rue the loss of voice chat one iota.

Not that the playful, joyous co-operative gameplay is to be sniffed at: finding another soul out there in the wilderness willing to take the game at your pace, exploring the areas you want to explore looks like being a uniquely satisfying experience, your resources and abilities shared, unlocking new sections as you both go along.  Machines are activated, bridges are built, secrets are uncovered.

Journey can’t be summed up in 700 words, and it can’t be demonstrated nearly enough in the short time I had with it.  I left the room longing for more, the desire to see what’s over the next hill stronger than with any other game I can think of.  It’s clearly not going to be for everyone, but for me, Journey strikes me as perfection – gaming nirvana.

And it’s not often we go there.

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46 Comments

  1. First!! (i joke, i joke, sorry) great write up nofi, ya jammy git…hopefully get some more in depth analysis off ya in the coming days.

  2. <3 ThatGameCompany

  3. I was quite excited for this, but from reading this it doesn’t really seem to be too interesting. You say it seems wonderful but all I see is some sand; 1-2 characters, and lots of random objects.

    People have said this game doesn’t need to have a point, but in my opinion it does. I just can’t see it being fun to play, no matter how interesting it is.

    • From what i gather, it’s a puzzler (and i think with regrads to some puzzles you have to work co-operatively) i could be wrong, but it’s a bit ‘still in the dark’ (i’d find you a link, but my keyboard is broke and i have a fractured wrist-hence me having to type under my telly, which is a pain) hopefully another TSA’er will be kind enough to do it for me…

      • I didn’t want to give too much away in the preview as that’s the role of such an article, really. It’s not a puzzler, though, it’s not a platform, it’s not an adventure. It is, honestly, a Journey.

        Once you see it, you’ll understand. =)

  4. Sounds weird… A bit pointless maybe. I just don’t get it.

    • I think the clue is in the title, it’s all about the JOURNEY.

    • None of thatgamecompany’s titles are “driven” as such. There’s a free-flowing nature to them all. Journey (along with the likes of Flower) are to be experienced. If you didn’t like their former outings then this might not suit you either. Meant nicely. :-)

      • I think you’re right, Flower didn’t really do anything for me and the concept of this isn’t particularly gripping. I’m still so curious that I may check it out though.
        It just all seems a bit “artsy” which is no bad thing but I’m not sure that it is equal to a decent game.
        It’s entirely possible that something will click and I’ll realise what’s makes it so interesting but at the moment it just seems a bit out there.

      • Good of you to admit it and equally appreciate how different we all are.

        Some people like paintings
        Some people can paint
        Some people can’t stand either

        With such strong art design and emotional game-play (the word “game-play” being used in the loosest possible sense) it’s good to assess if it’ll even register as something you want.

      • Some people like paintings, can also paint AND can’t stand :-P

        Those poor wheelchair bound artists. Someone should set up a fund.

    • To anyone who’s not convinced… *sings*”Don’t stop – believing! – Wo-oo-oh-ooh-oh-o-oo-o-oh!”

    • This is also my opinion, sounds weird, even pointless. I have to say I did enjoy flower, but thought flow was terrible. I even revisited it after the trophy patch, just don’t enjoy it. Hopefully journey will be more like flower and less Luke flow. They’ve also messed up on the naming with this one, clearly it should be called flowerer!

  5. i was very interested in getting this game.
    the well wrtten article above would’ve increased this interest, but after see the quote from todays’ prev article.its been deminished.
    Im referring to “Journey: 3 Hours to Finish”, please say its isnt so.

    • Looks like thats just for A fast run through of the single player mate. The main experience is supposed to be the multi player. At which I’m guessing u can take at your own leisurely pace!

      • interest regained & now at new heights.
        ty, thought it was online only. SP a bonus:)

    • As was said in the post yesterday, you can get through most games in 3 hours. Journey might be the same game each run through, but it’ll change massively based on who you’re playing it with and what you decide to do together.

  6. Lovely article, nofi. Appears you have a new love and its name is Journey. I simply cannot wait for this to hit the Store. Pass on our TSA love for it!

    • I did. The respect was mutual, which was lovely.

      • That’s nice to hear, there’s so much love for ThatGameCompany here!

  7. **Like. Day 1 purchase I think….

  8. I know it will be brilliant and your words are amazing, but I just… don’t get it.
    It’ll be like Flower, though. 2 minutes in and I’ll be in love.

  9. Looks kinda like Prince of Persia ugly little brother in the screenshots. I hope it will be like Flower though, loved that one too and screenshots didn’t do it justice either.

    • In motion it’s beautiful. We weren’t allowed to record gameplay, but I assure you it’s lovely.

  10. The first time i played flow i was standing up as the game started and was still standing up 20 mins later! I sometimes leave it highlighted on the XMB just to listen to that heavenly theme music.
    Flower was equally engrossing and i found it quite therapeutic playing it at a time when i really needed a pick-me-up.

    thatgamecompany – a brilliantly generic name for a company whose games are anything but generic! Can’t wait for Journey.

    • I’m a massive fan of the theme to FlOw, although this isn’t the theme, here is a piece I wrote on an orchestral version of the in-game music & sounds
      http://www.thesixthaxis.com/2009/08/05/the-orchestral-flow/

      • I think that was before i started visitng TSA so i missed your feature first time around.
        Thank you Chris, i thoroughly enjoyed that and have downloaded it to my PS3 to watch again.

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