Redefining multiplayer interaction
The indie developer Thatgamecompany are known for their beautiful and compelling games that break away from the (unfortunate) standard of game design. As Thatgamecompany quite poignantly state: they ‘develop artistically crafted, broadly accessible video games that push the boundaries of interactive entertainment’. Their latest release, Journey, a PSN exclusive, is a sublime masterpiece of emotive, creative storytelling. It is, without a shadow of a doubt, the most amazing gaming experience I have ever had, and perhaps ever will. It’s also a difficult game to review, simply because I do not want to give away any of the story or puzzle elements that are frequent. So instead, I’m reviewing it as an experience rather than a game. Enjoy.
Journey is viewed through the eyes of a purposefully mysterious protagonist, whose identity is concealed beneath a hooded robe and scarf. The story telling and drive behind the character is subtle and poignant: a large mountain with a shaft of light is artfully positioned in your first moments of play, revealing the arduous pilgrimage that is yours to complete. Your hooded friend begins his journey seated comfortably in the middle of a vast and desolate desert environment, where the ebb and flow of time has half-buried ancient ruins which call to you on the horizon. Hints of the calamity which led to the downfall of the people who inhabited the lands of Journey are revealed through hidden reliefs scattered across the world, and through silent cinematic reliefs or art panels at the end of each ‘level’.
But to reach these you must explore, assisted by a unique scarf which allows you to jump and glide upon the wind-currents which are integral to the world of Journey. The scarf contains runes which operate as charges, depleting after use. Other glowing runes, also hidden across the landscape, increase the length of the scarf, providing you with more charges and thus more jumps or glides before requiring recharging. While discovering these is not critical to your progression, they offer a pleasing aesthetic to your robed character, in addition to making some of the more gruelling exploratory puzzles that little bit easier.
While Journey may at first appear to be a lonely pilgrimage, it is not always so. Thegamecompany has introduced a unique and seamless multiplayer experience – befitting, that is as emotive as the story they are telling. As you progress you may find yourself face to face with another robed figure, quite like yourself (though perhaps with a far prettier robe and longer scarf!). They are nameless, as are you, but you can both communicate to each other through a musical ‘chirp’ accompanied by a unique glowing rune. Your companion may choose to remain with you, allowing you assist each other through your journey, or you can both go your separate ways. You will typically find yourself doing the former, as remaining in close proximity to each other has the added benefit of recharging your scarf, rather than relying on finding recharge areas scattered frequently across the map. But the encouragement is not really necessary: why walk the lonely road alone, when you can have a degree of companionship with you every step of the way? I developed a strange sense of attachment to my companions on my play-throughs, finding it quite an emotional experience. I’d like to share two moments in particular that will stick with me, both occurring close to the finale of my journey with one companion: the first occurred as we were making our way up a snow-covered mountain side, slowly freezing and losing our ability to continue. At one point my companion simply sat down in the snow, as if they had given up all hope and were giving themselves over to the elements. It was a profound moment of sadness and I breathed out an audible sigh of relief when they eventually stood up again (I’m sure I chirped happily at them!). The second moment occurred right at the end of the game, where my companion and I had become separated and I found myself alone. How could I walk up the last passageway without them, after all we had been through?! I had resolved myself to that very outcome when they landed behind me, chirping excitedly. I like to think that they were just as hopeful that I was still there, as I was that they would appear. Thank-you, my nameless friend. It’s quite interesting how we react when names and text are removed, leaving only subtle visual and audio cues as interactive elements. We seem much more inclined to act in a positive manner and see the best in those who share our experience.
From the moment you set foot in Journey you are greeted with what can only be described as a sublimely beautiful visual and auditory experience. From the way the sand dunes shift and sag beneath your feet, the distant shimmer of the sun on the horizon, to the incredible musical score that seems to somehow perfectly capture the emotion you are feeling – Journey is breathtaking. I have to say that, as an archaeologist, Thatgamecompany have managed to perfectly capture the thrill, mystery, wonder and excitement that made me do what I do. I cannot give higher praise than that. Play Journey, you will not regret a minute of it.