TGL is looking back at our favourite games of 2012. First up – Thegamingcompany’s “Journey”.
Journey was originally released in March exclusively for PlayStation 3 via PSN.
Journey is just such a wondrous experience that it’s actually quite difficult to put into words just how beautiful and ephemeral it all is. In truth, Journey’s simplicity makes it almost impossibly one of the PlayStation 3’s best games, an engaging and seminal experience that touches your heart and warms your soul. It’s breathtaking, and I don’t say that in an incidental and throwaway manner. Journey is an adonic and delicate harmony, one that never tries to be anything but itself. We are truly blessed that developers like thatgamecompany still have the creative zeal and artistic enthusiasm to push the boundaries of the videogame paradigm to these imaginative and original depths. I am in love with this game and it represents gaming at it’s creative romantic best in 2012.
Solitude is perhaps the most appropriate synonym for describing the isolating and insular experience evoked by Journey. This isolation is not one of loneliness in the negative sense though. Journey is an experience of solitude, a glorious autonomous expedition complimentary to what you may have felt when you first gripped Yorda’s facile fingertips in ICO for example. It is perhaps one of the most therapeutic, healing and curative experiences I’ve ever taken with a controller in my hand.
In saying that, describing what Journey “is” exactly poses something of a dilemma. On the surface you play an avatar adorned in an omnipresent rich brown and crimson shawl, a figure without a name, without a face, without expression and without a back story. Journey immediately plops you into the middle of a seemingly infinite desert; your only compulsion is to move forward and see what lies over the huge sand dune in front of you. It’s only in these first steps that you unknowingly begin your ‘journey’, one of trepidation and compulsive curiosity.
Everything about Journey is subtle. There’s no hub, no protracted tutorials or complicated controls. If you’ve played either of thatgamecompany’s previous titles in FLOw or FLOwer, you’ll know what to expect of Journey’s control scheme. You propel your character forward with the left thumb stick and manipulate the camera with a gentle tilt of the SIXAXIS. You’ll jump with a press of the X button and press SQUARE to summon a sort of burst of energy. It feels beautiful, so simple and unobtrusive. You’ll run through the sand, slowly stagger up the sides of steep dunes and glide down the other side. There’s a sense of freedom induced in every moment. Everything has a sort of floaty and graceful quality. It’s very accessible and quite easy to get to grips with.
As you move through this world you’ll encounter ruins and exposed rock formations, most of which will require some sort of simple interaction. Within moments of your first steps, you will acquire the ability to jump. How high and how powerful your jump can be is determined by the embezzled sash that bleeds from you. It essentially acts as a sort of power gauge, adorned with abstract shapes and seemingly alien characters. You will encounter floating fragments that with charge this gauge and lengthen your sash. It’s like the way your plankton grows in FLOw or the way your line of petals lengthens in FLOwer. You will use this charge to jump up the side of rocky formations or jump from platform to platform. Progress is achieved by highlighting a number of standing headstone like markers that reveal white figures that open a new space or a waterfall of sand to a corridor to the next level or part of the desert wilderness. The game doesn’t indicate who these figures are or what these markers mean as such, so everything is essentially something of a beautiful mystery.
The game’s presentation binds everything together. Visually it’s nothing short of wondrous. It’s like some kind of dream. You’ll move the camera around your avatar and simply drool at the infinite horizons, the desolate vistas and intoxicating and glistening ridges and dunes of sands before you. It’s a sumptuous and lush environment that accentuates the sense of freedom and isolation implicit in every step you take. You will bond with your environment. You need it and it needs you. There is an incredible sense of place with Journey. You can stand there and wonder just why everything is the way it is if you want or you can just get on with things and play through. Either way, you don’t lose out. There are many questions that need answering by the game’s conclusion, and yet, I’m happy to come away not actually know what the answers are to those questions in the end.
One of the most interesting components of Journey is its unique co-op set up. I found myself aimlessly treading and trickling my feet through the sea of sands only to encounter something I genuinely never expected, another avatar just like me. This is why Journey’s co-op is unlike anything else out there. You will encounter other players who are essentially embarking on the same journey that you are on. You can travel together in pairs and work out how to solve puzzles and progress together. But these surprise nomad partners are unanimously anonymous. You can barely communicate with each other (you can sing at each other) and you are in no way tied to anyone you meet on your journey. It’s a strange experience. I found myself wanting to remain on a solo adventure. I didn’t want to share my solitude with anyone. And yet, meeting another like minded waif perhaps evokes the most tangible feelings of isolation and highlighted the extreme nature of my solitude. It’s a bizarre experience but a truly distinctive and enthralling one.
Austin Wintory’s outstanding orchestral score certainly deserves a mention, not least because it’s since been nominated for a Grammy Award. His patterned and layered tones and audio quips are integrated to perfection, meandering throughout everything this experience puts before you. It’s yet another perfect partner for you to take with you as you peruse the sands and desolate ruins in search for intangible hope, faith and love.
Game of the Year 2012? Probably.