Journey – Review

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The characters don’t speak, there is no narration, the story is told almost entirely through pictures and tapestrys, there is no violence to speak of and there is no online PVP experience. With so many staples of the current crop of blockbuster games missing, you would be forgiven for asking what all the fuss is about. Surely this is just a cheap downloadable game that couldn’t afford voice actors?

Journey is the latest in the Sony exclusive trilogy of downloadable games from “That Game Company”, and while it would probably be a good idea to take some time to think over my time with Journey, i won’t be. The reason for this is simple, I absolutely loved the experience.

In the same way that Ico and Shadow of the Colossus told amazing stories without words, so too does Journey. The game has a simple premise, get to the top of the mountain and enjoy the trip on the way.

With gorgeous graphics, fantastic gameplay and a superb, haunting soundtrack, you’ll find it difficult not to.

Much has been made of the interaction between players in Journey, there are no loading times, little to no lag on the evidence of my play through, and the game is designed in such a way that, even with two random players inhabiting the same environment, there’s no competition. This is a game that rewards co-operation and creates an environment in which it is nurtured and encouraged, which is just as well since pairings are completely random.

Your traveller can fly and he can sing, although the sound of your voice is more flute like than human in sound). These two abilities are represented on your controller by the X and O buttons respectively, and despite these being the only two actions available to you during your time in the desert, the gameplay is both deep and rewarding.

Singing while your partner is in range of your voice (a visible white sound wave that radiates from your position) will re-charge his ability to fly, which is elegantly represented by a tapestry that hangs from the back of every travellers robes. When charged the tapestry, and later the robe of your character, will glow with an ornate white light pattern.

The power to fly can likewise be restored in an array of other ways, including coming into contact with swirling pieces of cloth, Manta Rays and Jelly Fish that share the same light pattern as your robes.

One tiny problem that i had with the online co-op of Journey was that it doesn’t list the user names of players you meet along the way in the “players met” section of the XMB. They do at least show you a list of all the players you interacted with at the end of the game, So if you liked the experience of playing with a sensible adult instead of a screaming 12 year old you may want to write those names down…

From a graphical point of view this is a game that needs to be experienced first hand, no amount of waxing lyrical will quite cover how stunning it really is. The desert stages of the game are some of the best looking that I’ve seen in a video game, you can almost feel the heat on the back of your neck as the traveller traipses up one side of a dune and then expertly slides down the other.

The animation of the Traveller is also excellent. There are fluid transitions between walking and flying, as well as several different types of walking animation depending on surface and angle of incline. It really is hard to believe that this is a £10 downloadable title. When compared to some full retail releases it comes away looking like the more polished product

One of the most influential aspects of this game is the Music. The Macedonia Radio Symphonic Orchestra were responsible for the hauntingly powerful soundtrack to Journey, and with such affecting music as this you have to ask why more games developers don’t go the orchestral route when scoring their work.

I’ve said in many a review, that good music can improve a game ten fold, while bad music can rip you right out of the experience. The beauty of Journey’s soundtrack is that it syncs perfectly with the singing mechanic of the gameplay, the notes you sing often changing to better complement the music in the background.

The overall feeling i took away from playing Journey was that this is a phenomenal game. The story is emotionally affecting thanks to brilliant use of music and a narrative that relies on actions rather than words, the gameplay is deep and varied despite the two button control scheme and the level of polish is staggering for a game that retails for so little.

This game marks the end of the contract between Sony and “That Game Company”, a relationship that saw  Flow, Flower and now Journey released exclusively on the PS3 platform. If i was Kazuo Hirai i would tie them down to a nice long deal, because on the strength of this release, they’re the best studio in the business right now.

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