From the makers of previous cult PSN classics like Flow and Flower, Thatgamecompany has provided gamers with totally original gaming experiences all while maintaining a somewhat mysterious persona.
The developer's latest gem is Journey, where players take control of a character made of wavy cloth through a desert world.
It's unfortunate that originality has become such a rare commodity in gaming lately, but with developers like Thatgamecompany, gamers who wish to walk the path less traveled are rewarded kindly.
While some may have written off the studio's previous two games as "screensavers you can also play," Journey is by far the most "game-y" of the trifecta yet.
Perhaps half the fun of a title like Journey is figuring out what exactly the game is. Unlike most modern titles, Journey doesn't hold your hand through an introductory tutorial level. Sure, there's the occasional on-screen tip, but the core mechanics and goals all must be unearthed manually. As inaccessible as that might sound, it's the reason Journey is such a success.
Thrown into a desert in the middle of nowhere, players assume the role of a charmingly crafted character outfitted in a silky wardrobe. From there, it's up to you. Of course you're led into the appropriate direction, but how you're specifically supposed to arrive there and progress requires a bit of visual reconnaissance.
Journey's gorgeous visuals and whimsical demeanor evoke a sense of flight in not just gameplay but in controls as well. The game is meant to give the player a sense of weightlessness that translates well.
Be it a bit short in its overall length, Journey should absolutely be a pit stop for anyone with a PlayStation 3 this spring.
If games can be art, then Journey is the gaming industry's Oscar-winning animated short. From its beginning to its all-too-quickly-realized end, Journey feels like some haunting cross between a Pixar film and something far more enigmatic, silent, transcendent. As a game, Journey isn't far off in concept from Flower, the experience that nearly single-handedly defined the artistic boundaries of PlayStation downloadable indie games. Instead of petal-collecting, your hooded avatar skips and glides through dunes setting birdlike motes free. I won't explain any more. The vastness of the world, the delicate and finely tuned palette of color, the simplicity of discovery of the game design, are incredible. Is it worth $14.99? I'd prefer if it was $9.99, but there are few games I'd rather buy and download on a PS3, so I can't complain too much.
What gets me excited about Journey, in an age of overly baroque games, is how its stripped-down style of storytelling can hold a player in thrall better than endless eye candy. Yes, the sandy cliffs and lonely relics are breathtakingly rendered, almost like a sequel of sorts to Shadow of the Colossus, but the silences and minimalism are the stunning part. It's like a shadow puppet performance compared with a Saturday afternoon screening of a Transformers sequel: less can be more.
Journey has a collaborative part to it: at some point, another player may join you on your mission. You won't know who they are. Your experience need not involve another person. I played on my own. Journey can be played again, and it's designed in some ways to be experienced as such. What I really love about with Journey is the lesson it imparts to games as a whole: I like gaming because of the mystery, the blind journey, the potential. Like a piece of avant-garde theater, Journey doesn't shoehorn a genre or a story into you. It simply is. Game designers everywhere should learn this lesson. And should the day arrive when Thatgamecompany, the game's developers, branch out to a full-fledged "studio" game like Pixar did with Toy Story, I hope the leap made is handled as gracefully. Because the gaming world needs more experiences like this.
Journey is available starting today exclusively on the PlayStation Network for $15.