Journey has been on our radar for quite a while now. Put together by That Game Company, a studio famed for its alternative approach to video games design, Journey has a lot of hype surrounding it.
We tend to remain sceptical of any title until we actually play it. Take TGC’s previous title, Flower. Described as the life of a flower petal, it wasn’t until it was running on our PS3 that we realised its brilliance. Journey is very much the same, we have seen snippets of a hooded creature floating about the desert but relatively little else.
After playing Journey all we can say is that this is an incredible game, one that re-invents everything you expect to do with a controller and your TV set. We are massive suckers for innovation here, but not at the expense of fun, and Journey manages to get the balance of both just perfect.
Sand, and lots of it
The game starts with you, a nameless desert wanderer in a red cloak, sitting overlooking sand dunes with nothing to see but a large mountain with a beam of light far away in the horizon. A few on-screen prompts about controls and a brief mention of accepting terms to enable you to play online and that’s it, nothing ever appears on screen again to help you.
You might say this is a bad thing but, trust us, it isn’t. Experimentation in Journey is incredibly rewarding and nothing is too complex that you might miss it or not figure it out. It means that anything you accomplish throughout the game just feels that little bit more special.
It took us about 20 minutes of walking about to work out where exactly we should be going. If you walk too close to the edge of an environment, the wind will blow you back in the right direction. This helps keep you on course throughout the game but never feels limiting.
We then come across a ruined building with a symbol on top. Walking into it causes our character to gain a scarf which will allow us to float for brief periods of time. In order to jump, the scarf must be re-charged by other pieces of cloth. As time goes on you can extend the scarf by collecting other symbols, eventually practically allowing you to fly.
After this, we walk off into the distance and attack our first puzzle. We don’t want to give too much away but most of these involve a combination of jumping, flying and giving off "shouts". There is a brief story section, which features no dialogue whatsoever, then we are on to the next part of the game.
It’s a looker
We know that the way games look tends to be geared towards what sort of clever lighting effects, hi-res textures or explosions they have. But Journey throws this all out the window. Running at 720p on our television, we haven’t seen anything that looks this good in a long, long time. Even compared to our "beast" PC running Battlefield 3, we would dare to say Journey is more impressive. Why? Because art style in a game can create such an atmosphere that all graphical fidelity becomes unnecessary. Journey looks incredible because of the way it is designed. The glinting sand in the evening sun, for example, or the huge vistas that confront you at the beginning of each level - it is all breathtaking.
There were moments where we found ourselves just sitting and panning the camera around our character to take it all in.
For a game so simple you wouldn’t expect multiplayer to be a key focus, but it is. Journey implements playing with other people in a way we have never seen before. Other players will simply wander in and out of your game, with no gamer name above their head and no means of communicating with you. The only interaction you can have with each other is by hitting circle and "shouting". This will make your on-screen character perform a sort of bleep noise that they others can see and hear, as well as it refilling the jump capacity of each other.
In its limitations, however, lies its brilliance. From the second level of the game onwards, we played through the entire thing with a person who just happened to appear on our screen. By the end we had developed an entire system of shouts which, a bit like Morse code, allowed us to communicate and figure things out together. This kind of gameplay innovation is unlike anything we have previously experienced.
Short but sweet
One thing about Journey that is rather sad - as is the case with all of That Game Company’s titles - is that it just isn’t long enough. For such an incredibly beautiful game, it's difficult to put down and you can easily play through the entire title in a couple of hours. Sure, it's downloadable and cheap, but we really wanted more by the time it had finished.
To put it in context, we finished the game in one sitting, playing through with one anonymous character. Perhaps this is how That Game Company intended it - for the whole of Journey to be shared with just one person.
Next time round though, given just how amazing a set of games the developer now has in its repertoire, we want a proper £40 pound 15-hour experience, or we're going to have a tantrum.
As DLC goes, this is the best thing on the PlayStation network right now. As games go, it ranks among our most memorable of all time. Up there with the likes of ICO and Shadow of the Colossus, this is an experience whose unconventional approach may not be to everybody's taste, but must at least be given a chance.
For those who like the unusual and inventive, Journey is the most innovative game we have probably ever played. So get downloading.