Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Journey (Playstation 3, 2012)

Now out on PS4 is the latest brainchild of the folks that brought you Flower and Fl0w. Compared to my usual posts, this one won't be full of jokes. I've been wanting to do a short review of this game for a while, but instead I'm posting a full playthrough and putting review elements into it. I did this post a while ago, then updated it with pristine PS4 shots, and now I'm reposting it one more time in preparation for Abzu. Without further ado, I give you Journey.

 By now it's safe to say that most people are familiar with the concept of this game, but it's thus: You play as a nameless, androgynous character who is trying to reach the top of a mountain.

Along the way there are several areas to traverse, starting with the desert. The graphics in this game are detailed and elegant, despite their relative simplicity. There isn't a whole lot to interact with in these environments, but it's hard to mind when everything is so MAJESTIC.

This game can be played either online or offline, and if you play it online you'll likely run into another player before long. There's no way to communicate directly with other players since the game lacks text, but you can emit sound waves. These range from small chirps to larger sphere-like waves. Figuring out how to communicate with your anonymous partner via chirps is an interesting way to do it. This game doesn't REQUIRE a persistent online connection; it's just a more fulfilling experience if you do have one. Once I was able to play this with other anonymous players, it took on a new dimension of being a shared experience.

Later in the desert, the traveler has to reconstruct a bridge. This happens by triggering different switches around the terrain with sound waves. This is about as much as you ever interact with the environment on a gameplay aside from gathering "powerups". There are some subtle ways to interact with the terrain, though. I like the way sand forms waves around you as you slide across it.

Once the bridge is constructed, you sail over it to the next area. While it doesn't have the same sense of flight that Flower had, you aren't exactly restricted by gravity in this game either. You can hover as long as you're touching cloth (for instance, this cloth bridge) and levitate on your own for short periods. Gliding is particularly fun.

I like the usage of vibrant colors in this game, especially the reds. Sorta reminds me of Mirror's Edge, which had a lot of bright red contrast.

The mountain looms closer and closer as the traveler goes towards it. Why does he/she/it need to get to this mountain? It's a mystery.

My favorite area in the game is the sunken city. Most of this area consists of you surfing through an ocean of sand at high speed, which is kind of awe-inspiring. Considering that most of the game is a climb, it's nice to essentially free-fall through an area. I wish the game had more stuff like this.

The traveler's scarf determines how long they can levitate/hover/glide at a time. As you collect symbols, the scarf gets longer; the glowing runes on it are essentially your "flight meter" and as you levitate, they disappear. Once the scarf runs out of runes, you glide back to the ground. Lots of things recharge the runes, luckily. The longer the scarf is, the more runes it has, and thus a higher maximum flight time.

The single most gorgeous scene in the game happens at the end of the sunken city. It's even better in motion.

The way the colors mix in this game can be amazing to look at. Journey is one of those rare games that makes a case for video games being art. It shows how good a game can be if you take away all the frills and just focus on the... well... journey.

Here's a shot of some two-player. The game also uses light to great effect, with enough lens flares to make J.J. Abrams happy.

Note: Unless we're talking about Star Trek Beyond, which got rid of lens flares to make room for all of the extreme close-ups of action. Back up a little bit! I can't tell WTF is going on!

There's one area where green is the prevalent color, and I kinda wish there were more like this. It's odd that this game never got any kind of DLC (nor did Flower). Their spiritual predecessor, Fl0w, had a DLC area, so there's precedent. It would be nice to have another area developed for this game to add to the longevity, but I can understand the developers not wanting to charge people more after they have already bought the game. Getting a complete the game from the get-go is preferable, but it won't stop me from wishing there were more added later. There's always room to add to something after it's finished.

Later parts of the game take place inside of temples that are filled with runes.

 The world of this game seems to go from low to high tech, and I gotta wonder what the story is behind this place. None is supplied, so it's left up to the player to think about what this world is. This game definitely subscribes to "less is more", and it works.

My least favorite area, at first, was the tower ascent. At this point I appreciate this level, because it's the only one where you can swim.

Swimming is similar to the flight in the rest of the game, except there's no limit on your hover-time because you're underwater.

The character you play as in this game, despite being nameless, genderless, and nearly faceless, somehow manages to be expressive. Still, it is silent, and this silence lets the player fill in the blanks with their own reactions. It reminds me of the old days of NES and SNES games that didn't have a scene with dialogue every five minutes, so it was left to the player to fill in the blanks with their idea of what Samus or Link was thinking.

More vibrant graphics. This game... is outstanding in the visuals department. I like the way you and your anonymous compatriot basically meditate together at the end of a level. It's very zen.

The final area of the game (sort of) is the mountain itself. It's very snowy and desolate, but like the rest of the game it's remarkable. The game gets colder and slower as it goes on, perhaps echoing aging.

The beauty of the multiplayer in this game is that you could be playing the game with anyone. An Israeli and a Palestinian could be playing together; a republican could play with Barack Obama; I could play with Fox News contributor Ann Coulter. You just don't know who it is. I suppose this is true for all online games, but in this case it's particularly apparent due to the lack of any kind of identification. Maybe it's hyperbole to say this, but I believe that by removing barriers, this game hammers home the message that all people are just people and that hate is unnecessary.

 Enjoying a heat lamp. Spoilers for the ending are about to happen, so turn back now if you don't want to know more.

Ultimately, you (and your compatriot, if you're online) end up freezing to death in front of a distant thunderstorm.


But wait! A bunch of spirits materialize, and whisk you away. Whisk you where? You just died. Right?

Not exactly. You get whisked into the sky on beams of light in what appears to be either an allegory for Heaven or some kind of Buddhist transcendence.

Above the clouds, you now soar around in warm sunlight without any threats in sight. It certainly looks like transcendence. There's the sense that the characters fell in the snowfield below and then transcended their mortal bodies. Of course, it's also entirely possible that they simply Hulked Up and suddenly gained cloud-hopping powers, but that's doubtful.

Most importantly, the traveler reaches their destination at last. Even if you're just a spirit at this point, it's good that they made it. Dying in a snowfield would have been a real downer of an ending.

The travelers march into the light, concluding a brilliant game.

BOOM. This game is an hour or two long, but man, is it a great hour or two. Few game experiences are this fun to look at, relaxing to play, and just plain fulfilling. I'm sure there are a lot of people who will look at it and go "lame" because of the lack of explosions and guns. To those people, I say that if you want explosions and guns, just take classes at an American high school.

That concludes the review. I give this game a 9 out of 10, and highly recommend it. It's well worth the price tag.

BUT WAIT. In the immortal words of those old Nintendo Power tapes, "you STILL want MORE?"

RAD TO THE MAX SURFING LEVEL. I find myself revisiting this level from time to time. It's probably the most fun level, and there's a trophy challenge to go through a bunch of the stone archways on your descent.

The aptly-named Transcendance trophy is obtained. Wait, this game has trophies? Indeed it does. However, much like Flower and Fl0w, the trophies here aren't the centerpiece of the game. They seem out of place, even. What they DO accomplish is give the player a reason to revisit it, find everything, and do out-of-the-way things that they may not have even thought of the first time around. It's a good use of trophies, and adds replay value.

Another thing that can keep you coming back? Symbol-collecting. I just finished this up, and it was a fun little jaunt. Collecting all 21 of the symbols throughout the game rewards you with...

...a new outfit. The white robes have a regenerating rune-scarf; every time you touch the ground your runes regenerate. Makes the game even more fun to play around in, since you can fly and glide around a lot more than before.

The white garb also glows more in the light, so it even looks cool. Great little reward for continuing to play and something I wasn't even aware of the first couple of times I ran through the game. Also, props to Thatgamecompany for including this in the game itself rather than as a DLC costume. Onward to Abzu, the newest game from these folks (under a new umbrella).


  1. These continue to be fucking fantastic, thank you.

  2. gorgeous writing. after reading your review i felt a wonderful sense of calm. and a feeling that hate/violence can be so easily transcended by allowing our minds to experience our own inner heavenly realms.

    your writing and graphics combined relayed that message perfectly.


  3. Wonderful mail, wonderful game, gave me a serene feeling and made me think. What you said about how your teammate could be anyone is so poignant.

  4. Great to see this on PS4. The best thing about the new release is that since people are playing it again, you can find companions online once more.