Quote of the Day

"We're only here briefly, and while I'm here I want to allow myself joy. So fuck it."
- Amy, Her.

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

RE:View: Journey

"Are video games art?" is a question I frequently see posed all around the web. The debate in which whether making something built for interaction is merely entertainment or an actual crafted product of creativity has raged online for a while now, with neither side quite trumping the other. But if Journey, the latest downloadable PSN title from thatgamecompany of Flower fame, is anything to go by, then the battle is substantially over. Journey is quite simply a marvel.

 You play as an unnamed robed traveller, Journeying across a desert wasteland to reach the distant mountain top and fulfill your mysterious destiny. That's it. No back-story, no cutscenes, no dialogue. You're just plopped into this dazzlingly bright world, and told to move in that direction. But it works, delightfully so. This is the kind of game where the less you know the better, so you can fully experience what happens around you as you play.

Thankfully, the back-drops in which you do this are of a very high-class level. Sun flares magnificently off the camera and illuminates the lush sands and stones for which to explore. And whilst the desert-based adventuring quickly changes to some surprising, even vaster and often unsettling climates, the visuals evolve along with it and help to truly immerse you in this odd, mysterious world.

In terms of controls, Journey is again kept bare-bones simple. Move, Fly and Shout are your three options as you navigate your traveller through the game. As you go along, you'll encounter strange creatures and tapestries in an asian-like language, that when brushed pass give you the limited ability to fly swiftly into the air to reach higher-places and glide over the terrain.

The Shout button gives you a personal insignia to broadcast and
interact with things within the world
But the greatest thing throughout Journey is the subtlety in which it takes players along the, well... Journey. As you progress, a little more is learnt about the world around you, and why the pilgrimage being undertook is being undertaken. You won't even notice it while playing, until you take a step back and realise you've been immersed within this game for the last couple hours and are absolutely with it. Naturally, the touching and ghostly score that accompanies the entire game does a lot to help accomplish this, coming out of nowhere at times with what you'd expect to hear in a big dramatic epic. The way it guides you without ever speaking a word is something to really respect in the way of both storytelling and game-making, that unfortunately is becoming less and less common in the age of the FPS and Action Orientated gaming.

And while roaming, you may notice another traveller join you on the unspoken quest. Not an NPC, but a real person, somewhere in the world playing Journey at the same time and in the same place as you. Seamlessly you are hooked up together, with no names given and no means of communication other than the Shout button, a single communication beacon to tap for a response. For me, this was what made the game truly magical: the ability to connect to another human being, watch and react to their little movements on screen, without having any preconceptions or information on who they are. Wondering around with someone like this increased the experience of Journey furthermore, because then everything just felt so real.

 We had a connection, a shared motif to play. But that's it. And so we Moved and Flew and Shouted together in a graceful harmony of what Journey really stood for. Hell, when one partner left me at a particularly dark part in the game, I was physically saddened and scared for the prospect of carrying on alone. When playing with another, there was this thrill, a sense of being that I'd never had with a game before. And then I reached the glorious final moments of the game, which were as harrowing as they were tremendous, due to me being alone and burdened with actual emotion within myself. It was madness, yet it was beautiful.

And when thinking about Journey, that seems like what it's all about: The Beauty. To give players a ride of awe and wonder with the game's presentation and experimental flow of story, to immerse them with the toppest of notch scores and brilliant execution, and then force them to feel the experience extend past the controller and screen, with the euphoria of an unseen connection whilst all these mechanics merge together to invade the mind and heart.

So when reaching those final few moments of the game, watching the credits roll and then presented once more with the start menu, I just had to stop. I had to think, to reflect, to be. It was quite a shock to have to do that at the end of a video game - I'd only ever experienced that "stare into space and absorb what just happened" moment when finishing an important book or film, but never a game. So you tell me, "Are video games art?"

If you own a PS3, if you can access the Store, and happen to have £10 free, then I believe you owe it to yourself to get Journey. As memorable as it is enjoyable (which is a seriously large amount), Journey is a modern masterpiece in gaming, and proves that you don't need guns and action to have a good time with your console. More than just a game; it's an experience, one that I doubt you'll find anywhere else for the short time it takes to finish. But of course, it's not about the destination...

A real game changer.

5 Stars

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