Sunday 11 March 2012

Journey - Review

Thatgamecompany were responsible for two of the most original games released on the Play Station Network.  Their third title, Journey, has been eagerly anticipated.  There have been hints of what to expect over the last year or so and the previous titles, Flow and the gorgeous Flower, gave everyone hope this would be special.  What no one had any right to expect was something proving games can move on to another level of entertainment.

Journey is just that, a journey.  The game begins in the desert, your waif like character dressed in a robe with a small scarf flapping in the breeze.  The only hint of where to head a pile of stones on top of a hill made of sand.  Head there and you're able to see a huge mountain in the distance, a shaft of light disappearing from its peak into the heavens.  It becomes apparent this is your goal and as you move towards it small puzzles appear and the opportunity to increase the size of your scarf, which when powered up by singing, yep, your character can sing, enables you to fly a short distance.  You quickly realise that you can surf down the sand dunes and there's a certain thrill in that, especially over longer distances but what really takes your breath away is the visuals and use of music to bring this game to life.  It's beautiful in an incredibly simple way.
The soundtrack, all sweeping orchestral score, helps you to 'feel' the journey and have a sense of your characters eventual destiny at the top of the mountain.  Despite the lack of an explanation, or any real sense of why your character is on the journey in the first place, you never question it.  It feels right to move forward, so you do.

The real achievement here is not to make a piece of art passing its self off as a game but to make a game that feels as tight as the best movie you've ever seen.  There's no fat on the bones with Journey, no unnecessary puzzle or overlong cut scene, it's precisely as long as it should be, a story that plays out within the same timeframe as a movie.  Which of course will lead to the biggest debate about it.  You see, Journey does indeed last an hour and a half, which for £10 doesn't seem like particularly great value.  There is plenty of replay value, additional pieces of scarf to earn and trophies to win etc, but as a one shot experience it's one of the best £10 you could spend.  Why?  There are moments in Journey so perfect so 'hairs up on the back of your neck,' you'll wish thatgamecompany were churning out titles once a month not once every few years.

It's worth noting the moment it'll click with you is the moment you turn on the online multiplayer.  Interaction is limited to singing to each other and recharging scarfs.  And that's it.  You can not see each others gamer tags and you can not speak to each other over head sets.  But it works.  After playing endless Team Death Matches on Call of Duty it's about as big a breath of fresh air to online gaming as you could imagine.

There's nothing else out there like this.  Could it have been a twenty hour plus platformer? Yes of course. Would that have been a good thing?  In many ways yes.  But it would of meant losing the pacing and worst of all the poetry.  And how many times have you heard the word poetry associated with a game?

Brilliant and worth every briefly invested penny.

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