Saturday, 29 December 2012

ThatGameJourney

I love playing games. It’s one of my hobbies and I’m quite passionate about it. In light of the recent bad press gaming seems to have had (things that I commented on in a previous blog post) I wanted to present quite possibly one of the most amazing gaming experiences I have ever encountered. I’ve actually wanted to talk about this game for quite a while but I’ve been holding off because I don’t think I could do it justice and convey just how exquisite an experience this is. The reality is the only way to truly understand would be to play it, uninterrupted, alone and completely open to be immersed by it. As gaming news and commentary is going to be something I continue to do, I wanted to start with “the right game” and it had to be Journey. There is nothing that comes close this year and arguably this decade. If you haven’t played it, I won’t spoil any of the key moments.

The main thing to note about Journey is that everything the game does serves one purpose and that is to drive the narrative and build towards a collective experience. It is difficult to talk about single aspects of the game because each system in the game compliments and supports another. It’s becoming more and more prevalent to see multiplayer or RPG elements added to games because it’s “in fashion”. Journey doesn’t do that, everything present is potent, masterfully crafted and has a purpose.


The first thing that hits you about Journey is the visuals. As soon as you start the game you are presented with a vast desolate desert, stretching out as far as you can see, and soon after you are quickly introduced to your single solitary goal in the game: reach the mountain top. A peak looms over the land in the distance and at its summit there seems to be a ray of light. As the title screen appears over the image of the mountain the distance it becomes abundantly clear that your journey is to get there. There is no quest text telling you what to do or mini map markers (in fact the UI is stripped entirely with all information being represented visually in the world or on the character), this is intuitive design. The simplicity of this game is its brilliance because it taps into core human emotions, this one being curiosity and the need to explore.

And then the music kicks in and suddenly you’re within the games grasp. As you wander the desert as the main character (who is designed with no specific gender) the music accents each step with emotion. Whether it is fear, excitement, curiosity or sorrow the games changing visuals and music create an emotional ride that sucks you in. The music in Journey is one of the standout features; it was nominated for a Grammy and if you’re listening to the video I linked at the top, it’s clear why.

The gameplay is as simplistic as the games aesthetics. You can jump (and glide) and let out a pulse of light. The pulse of light is an interesting mechanic because it is your only way to interact with world and all the wonders waiting to be found. It also serves as an interesting and creative way to communicate with any players you happen to pass by. Journey features a multiplayer component with adds to the games appeal, narrative and collective experience. You don’t know the identity of the people you pass by. There is no way to “connect”, anyone playing at the same point as you in the game has a chance to appear in your world and you theirs. There is no name plates, no way to start talking to the person, you cannot message them, you are just two strangers in a strange land and you can either continue on together or drift off into the sands. The multiplayer mechanic in this game taps into another core human trait, that being one of humanity. Simply working out how to communicate and work with a complete stranger was an uplifting experience.

It is this perfect cocktail of simple features and a world of wonder that make Journey such a fantastic game. I found myself exploring whenever I could and I was genuinely afraid when the games enemies would approach. Because there is no way of combating them, a crushing sense of fear and helplessness overcomes you. You feel concern for the person you’re on this journey with, even though you know nothing about them.

When it was over (the game clocks in at about two to three hours) I knew then that what I had just played was something crafted with care, with purpose and it was one of few instalments in this genre that can be considered art. I would put this alongside any painting, film or piece of music because it evokes the same emotions and I’d argue that those emotions are much more personal because you interact with the game, it is your story.

If you’re interested in games and are a little tired of the same old thing over and over again then I implore you to try Journey. If you’re not into games and enjoy books, films or music then I also implore you to try Journey when you get a chance, this goes beyond a video game and it is an experience. Journey is easily the best game of 2012, quite possibly the best game in the last 10 years.

Utterly haunting.

T