This hands-on includes discussion of the beta, and as such may contain spoilers.
Journey, away from the hustle of E3 and in the comfort of your own surround sound headphones, is an altogether more somber, melancholic experience. The tale is a sad one, told in retrospect and reflection rather than the present tense, the mood deliberately downbeat and the progression punctuated by exposition, the story handed down by mysterious characters and coded glyphs alike.
Without a comprehensible word spoken, much like thatgamecompany‘s Flower, Journey manages to evoke a range of emotions rarely seen in the medium.
Of course, the same could be said about the aforementioned Flower, and perhaps even Flow, the studio’s debut PlayStation 3 title. And whilst we have no doubt that there won’t be any shortage of people wanting to get their hands on Journey, it’s also ignorant and naive to suggest that the game will suit everybody – it might be the most accomplished game from the studio so far, but it’s still going to need a gentle nudge to grab the attention of the masses.
Ironically, that’s precisely what this Beta could actually achieve – get enough people to play this and enough will be tempted by it when it releases later in the year. Sadly, this European Beta isn’t technically a demo, and its numbers are few.
Regardless, it’s here, and it’s brilliant – and at least anyone reading this is already interested enough. So, what does it consist of? Well, it feels dishonest to classify Journey’s levels as such, but there are clear dividers in place (large gated exits, in the whole) and there are two of those in this sampler, so technically (ignoring the way the last area is cruelly cut short as the fog literally lifts on proceedings) there are three main areas to explore.
Each feels remarkably different in style and scope, and each shows off the game’s subtleties rather nicely, from the deliciously innocent beginning section (complete with trademark overlaid ‘controller tilt’ instruction) through to the intriguing ending, the player will learn to move, discover how to extend their scarf, build bridges from cloth to repair a huge broken structure and follow dancing, dragon-like sand creatures over vast dunes.[drop2]All the while, the overwhelming sense of juxtaposition prevails. The landscape is vast and the ruins are ancient, but your prescence is temporary, a flitting blip on an otherwise enduring, age-old abandoned expanse. Aesthetically, too, your shrouded character couldn’t be more distinct, the burnt reds and oranges of the cloak (to which you become strangely possessive and protective) standing out against the muted shades of the desert.
The art design is simply exemplary, the graphics beautiful.
Aurally, too, Journey’s simply sublime. Through a decent set of speakers or, as I said originally, headphones, the complexities of the wind and the gentle notes of the cloak are wonderful – the music’s generally sweeping and orchestral, but there’s one area in the Beta where it builds and builds, bringing in drums and other percussion as your actions click into place. Presentation wise, Journey is nigh on flawless.
The Beta’s not long, you can dash through it very quickly, but Journey’s a game that’s meant to be savoured, and rushing to the end will not only mean you’ll have missed many secrets, you’ll also have missed the point. There’s nothing more satisfying than finding everything there is to find in an area before moving on, and doing so will considerably extend the game’s core length. And of course, playing Journey with a partner, whoever they might be, is even more enjoyable.
Journey’s the natural follow on to Flower. As different in flavour as possible, but similar enough in design to justify the ‘sequel’ monicker – that alone should be enough to ensure you don’t miss out, and having run through the Beta a couple of times already, we now can’t wait to get our hands on the final version.
Details of how to enter the European Beta are expected very soon.