Review: Journey (PS3)

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Title: Journey
Format: PlayStation Network Download (589 MB)
Release Date: March 13, 2012
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: thatgamecompany
Original MSRP: $14.99
ESRB Rating: E
Journey is exclusive to the PlayStation Network.

** I went to great lengths to make this review COMPLETELY SPOILER FREE, even the screenshots don’t give anything away. I feel very strongly that Journey is something that needs to be experienced firsthand so I made sure this could be read long before you play. **

Audio Review:
The audio review for this game is available on Episode 258 of the podcast.

Gameplay:
Journey, thatgamecompany’s third foray onto the PlayStation Network, arrives with high expectations and renewed interest in the “Games as Art” debate. It reaches back to age old archetypes in telling a story that feels ancient and vaguely familiar, yet fresh and new. It’s modern day folklore wrapped in a two and a half to three hour experience with no dialogue. Wonder, loneliness, fear, desperation, frustration, exultation, and joy are just a taste of what I went through. It’s one of those things that simply has to be experienced by yourself, alone in a room with no distractions.

After playing through to completion several times, I sat and thought about what I’d experienced and how I could capture that in a written review, especially without giving too much away. It’s a difficult thing to do because you really have to discover the world for yourself and find your own way through it. I will tell you that the landscapes are more varied than the desolate desert we’ve seen. You’re making your way through a fully formed world with an ancient history and along the way, if you look hard enough, you’ll find glimpses of it. It won’t all make sense, though some of it comes together at the end of your journey as pieces fall into place, while some more comes to light on subsequent playthroughs.

Journey is an experience that rewards exploration. My first time through, I thought Trophy notifications were suppressed so the reality of the world you were in wouldn’t be shattered. I thought it was a brilliant idea… until I got to the end, heard the familiar ‘ding’ and got a Trophy. It was then that I realized I’d barely scratched the surface of Journey. Going through again, I knew the basics of what needed to be done, but there was so much more to explore and even more surprises in store for me. Two and a half hours sounds short in today’s world of 90+ hours of adventure in a game, but Journey is a much more rewarding experience and worth multiple trips.

You start in a desert, a creature made of cloth. You’re given the bare minimum of instruction and very little in the way of control. You can move, make noise and eventually, float for short periods of time. No voice-overs, no text (beyond ‘Press’ and ‘Hold’ in the early controller visuals), no heads up display and no real instruction. Everything is conveyed through camera angles and brief cutscenes at the end of each area. Like a child, you have to feel your way through the world, exploring the limits of your abilities. Most of the time, I found myself tapping away at the sound button, jabbering on in varying tones, amusing myself much like an infant. Those noises are necessary as you move from area to area and you’ll be surprised at what you can do with such a limited skill set.

Visuals:
Beautifully crafted cartoon-like vistas mixed with shimmering light and heat effects in the desert scenes give Journey its memorable look. The loneliness of the desert is captured in sweeping dunes and buried structures. Moving through the sand, leaves a visible trail. Sand flows like water in some areas and you’ll be able to ride the wake across vast distances, sliding down dunes and more. The strength of your voice can even create a small shock wave and ripple effect in the sand around you showing off a good physics engine underneath it all.

Particle effects of sand and such getting kicked up are used sparingly but effectively. Light and dark play beautifully off of each other in dimly lit areas and vast caverns. The sense of scale works very well as the camera pulls back to highlight important things and zooms back in behind your character again. Expect more variety than what you’ve seen, especially as you get deeper into the game. The vistas that open up to you and the landscapes that you have to traverse each have an effect on your character’s look and abilities, especially near the end. It’s really like moving through a lovely series of paintings.

Audio:
The soundtrack in Journey is beautifully haunting. Play this game alone in a dark room with headphones on. The orchestral score is often dominated by a lonely cello echoing your experiences. The music will swell to a boisterous, even fun pitch at times where it’s needed and it makes the experience much more emotionally satisfying.

Ambient sounds are important as well and even critical at times. You’ll hear the wind slowly getting stronger before you feel it’s effects. The simple sound of sliding through sand adds perfectly to what you’re seeing on screen. The background noise of the natural world is more prevalent than you’d think and it really helps bring the world to life in unexpected ways.

The sounds you can make yourself are a variety of musical notes and they’re pivotal to moving forward in your experience. Depending on how hard you press the Circle button you can make short quiet notes to loud calls. In a game with no dialogue, text or heads up displays, audio becomes crucial in establishing moods and cues along with the visuals. It’s a vital piece of the experience which is why I really recommend headphones here.

Online/Multiplayer:
So how do you keep the emotional experience of Journey pure while adding in some kind of multiplayer? If you’re thatgamecompany, perfectly of course. The first time the game loads, an online license agreement comes up that you’ll need to agree to, after that, everything is seamless and hidden from view. If you’re online, other players may appear along the way. Come over a sand dune and you’ll see another cloth person. No user id’s, no matchmaking, no voice chat. You can choose to interact with them or move on and leave them behind. Maybe they’re just moving around an area and playing, maybe they’re stuck and unsure what to do. Using your sounds, you may try to communicate with them in a rudimentary way. It brings a child-like innocence to the proceedings when you have such a small set of tools at your disposal and no way of knowing who you might meet.

It’s entirely up to you whether to interact with anyone you see along the way. You might stay with them for a while or bypass them completely. It’s incredibly refreshing compared to the usual distractions of online play and it’s exactly what this experience needed. Your first time through I might recommend playing offline to really feel the weight of the experience, but if you get stuck, or lonely, or you just want to share the experience with a companion, connect to the PlayStation Network and enjoy the ride.

Conclusion:
After playing through Journey several times, I can tell you that this is an experience that, as a gamer, you don’t want to miss. It’s shorter then I expected, but the adventure you undertake, the joy of discovery, the hardships and the trials you face are all worth several trips. Unless you really take the time to thoroughly explore each area, there will always be something else to discover.

As far as “Games as Art” goes, that debate will probably rage on for some time to come, but to me, Journey is exactly that, an exquisite work of art and an experience that will stay with you long after you put the controller down.

Score:
10

Written by Josh Langford

Josh Langford

Josh has been gaming since 1977 starting with the Atari 2600.
He currently owns 18 consoles and 4 handhelds (all hooked up and in working condition) including all consoles from the current generation.

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  • http://twitter.com/Yurtigo Carlos Maia

    Looks like a masterpiece

  • ChazzH69

    Well this review is spoiler free but says it all. I now have to get this game based on this article alone. Nice one Josh, keep up the great work.

  • thesau31

    “It’s one of those things that simply has to be experienced by yourself, alone in a room with no distractions.”

    … crap.  I’m screwed.  :)

    • http://psnation.org/ Josh

      Lol get up at 3am or better yet send the ladies. (all three of them) to the grandparents for a night

      • thesau31

        I like the way you think

  • http://twitter.com/yeahbeer Edward Pol

    Great review Josh! The others are right I may have to buy this just on this review alone! Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/larrysellers_ps Larry Sellers

    Great review, Josh. 

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Jason-Roestel/100001914673458 Jason Roestel

    Oh Josh… once again your written work has managed to stir my heart and loins… Great write-up man. I’ve been waiting for this review – game too. Can’t wait to finally play it.

  • http://twitter.com/emiru69 Pablo

    Thanks for making the review spoiler FREE, that probably took you long to time to write and review!

  • Tury6

    Cant wait flower is one of my fav games

  • OzMo12

    Great review Josh, I have been lightly following this game for quiet some time now and I always thought it would be right down my alley (very ambient, immersive, and unique gaming experiences) and to see its right around the corner and doesn’t disappoint I’m even more stoked now!

  • Vasi Cotia

     Excelent review Josh! I will surelly experience this game as soon as it will release!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=825876601 Charalampos Drake Sar

     well LIMBO was also short but a great game nonetheless…
    good review!!!

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/Stoffinator2008?gl=CA&hl=en Stoffinator

    Thanks for the review Josh, looks awesome.

  • way2easy

    I have been waiting for this game forever.  Let me put it this way, my kids can sing along to the cello section from the trailer.  I feel that after all this time, I kind of know what sort of games Josh likes.  As soon as I saw this announced I know it would be a game that he (and I) would cherish. I am glad that the team at thatgamecompany have accomplished what they have been trying to do for three games now. I am glad that this game has come out at a time that I can appreciate it and I am glad that, after drinking three bottles of terrible white wine, I am still sober enough to announce my undying admiration of Josh’s writing cred and also will he marry me.

    xxx

  • way2easy

    also, that is a joke about the whole marriage thing (unless he’s interested…..)

  • http://psnation.org/ Josh

    lol, thanks way2easy, but Lu and the baby might have something to say about that.

    And thanks everyone else, I worked hard to figure out a way to review it without giving anything away.  I’ve read some other reviews around the net and I’m annoyed at some of the stuff they spoil.  I really think the joy of this game lies in the discovery.  I hope you all like it as much as I did.

    • http://twitter.com/GreenMekon Stephen Tower

       Great review Josh, so pleased you did not spoil it. I have tried to avoid reviews of this as I do not want it spoilt. Cant wait to play this.

  • http://twitter.com/trickman trickman

    I’m getting this. My wife has been looking forward to this game ever since it was announced. She loves thatgamecompany games and I’m sure this one will not disappoint.

  • Stryfe84

    Just played through start to finish stunning game, well experience rather than game. Very glad of the spoiler free review, don’t know how you wrote a review, find it difficult to sum it up myself!

    Haven’t played flower before but I feel like I’m missing out on something now.

    • http://psnation.org/ Josh

       Thanks =)   This was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to write but I’m very proud of how it turned out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/keithpatrickdunn Keith Patrick Dunn

    The only thing I’m a little iffy on is playing alone. I think it’s imperative it be played with others…but I AM saying that after only one play-through so whadoo I know? I will say my partner called me on his way home about SIX BLOODY TIMES FOR ME TO LOOK UP BUS SCHEDULES ON-LINE AND I WANTED TO MURDER HIM!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Which did get in the way of the emotion of the game. Anyway…maybe I need to put on headphones and play with my phone off when I’m home alone this weekend…dang I wish I had some SHROOMS, Dude!

    • http://psnation.org/ Josh

       I think it’s more important to play alone the first time through.  That way you don’t have a cloth companion distracting you or simply showing you where things are.  You get to discover it all on your own.  After that, it’s great to join other people as you make your way through.

  • Dan Spontak

    Hey Josh, do you think you guys could do a spoilercast soon for this masterpiece?  Played it last night in one sitting.  Holy crap!  This game is phenomenal.  It’s gotta win best downloadable game ever.

    • http://psnation.org/ Josh

       Interesting idea.  We’ll discuss it and see if we can fit it in some time.

      • Dan Spontak

        Perhaps you could tac it on to the end one of your weekly epic Podcast’s?

        Damn, I wish this game was on Vita.

  • http://twitter.com/CanaryWorf Richard Hancock

    Delayed response here, but thanks for the great review Josh, it entirely sold the game to me.

    Once I bought the game and played it I was not at all disappointed, even though I finished my first play through in less than 2 hours the feeling of satisfaction and genuine emotion I felt at the end was well worth the admission price!

    Also I can’t remember such a satisfying gaming experience as when you first master the technique of drifting along with your friends in the sand dunes.

    Roger Ebert just lost the ‘can games be art’ argument once and for all IMHO.

  • fingerbum

    So i picked up this game to day for $20 AUD :( but my initial thoughts were bad and it wasnt until…. how can i put this.. until my online buddy “was no longer” did it make my heart sink.. from there on end a great game :):)

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