Monday, March 26

Journey Review (PS3): The meaning of life

Despite my best efforts, I've so far been unmoved by thatgamecompany's previous efforts, flOw and Flower. I couldn't adapt to the former's Sixaxis controls, while Flower proved to be a little too abstract for me to want to follow it through to its end. Journey appeared to be in a similar vein: more art than game. I thought this would've been appealing at first, but my need for some indication of success, progress and -- to be entirely honest -- excitement would have me rushing for the nearest shooter or fighting game. Much to my surprise, Journey excites, it teases and tugs at the heart strings, and it had me hooked from beginning to end.

Like every thatgamecompany effort, Journey is visually distinct; to the point where the lack of HUD and most other videogame trappings have you questioning whether this is a game or an installation. Come to think of it, I still haven't resolved whether or not Journey is a game or something else altogether. Beautiful vistas and unforgettable soundtrack aside, there's not a whole lot to the -- for lack of a better word -- action other than pushing the left stick forward and occasionally pressing the X and circle buttons. But the compulsion to carry on persisted despite the lack of explicit challenge and indicators of success or failure.

From all of the pre-release coverage that I'd read and seen, I had genuine concerns about pacing in Journey; besides, walking isn't normally half as fun or fast as some alternative modes of transportation found in other videogames (fighter jets and helicopters in Just Cause 2 for example). Forgetting that my playthrough lasted for two hours (give or take a few minutes), the experience never dragged on at any point. If I had seen enough of a particular area, the path ahead was clear; but there were times when I just wanted to linger, to poke around the ruins and ancient structures.

The desire to wander was at its strongest when I had company in tow, as Journey's multiplayer serves to further blur the line between between game and art. You don't cooperate with anyone that you encounter in the expanse, you simply walk with them. Your ability to progress is not in any way conditional on another player's proximity or ability to survive, they're just there for the ride and vice versa. At first, I questioned its inclusion, but it adds a lot to the experience further down the line. You're on a pilgrimage with these people. You don't know their names and can't even communicate them (unless you count the unintelligible calls of varying intensities that you can make by pressing the circle button). It's oddly affecting and it's functional.

This may be best left for another post, but I felt the overwhelming need to play this with my wife. I don't know whether it's because she just left on school camp or that I think she'll enjoy this, but wandering is kind of our thing. That, and it feels odd to cry in the company of strangers. Not that my companions would have known that I was sobbing in the final stages, but I really wanted to share this with her. The hardships, the beauty, and the unknowns encountered on this sojourn shouldn't be experienced alone, and I think it would've been all the more powerful with a loved one by your side. Don't get me wrong, the integration of multiplayer works just fine in its current state, but I think there was the potential for even more impact.

What struck me more than the shimmering sand dunes, underwater labyrinths and peerless aural component was the profound impact that Journey's themes of life, death, tradition and companionship imparted upon me. It's entirely possible that you won't see what I saw, or feel what I felt on my playthrough; but I think you should investigate regardless. Whether it's a game or a piece of interactive art, I don't think there's any arguing that it's beautiful and needs to be seen, if not experienced.

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