Review: Journey for PS3
Journey is most satisfying when played with a stranger.
REVIEW: There are no weapons, no shoot-outs, no complex puzzles – just a lonely traveller and tonnes of golden, shifting sand. But it's one of the most refreshing games I've played in a long time.
It's a game that shines when you stumble across another player in the vast wilderness that is the game's world. Then you can explore together, achieving objectives without uttering a word between you.
Journey comes from the minds behind PlayStation 3 games Flower and Flow – both beautiful games themselves (I consider Flower one of the best downloadable games I've played).
In Journey, you guide a voiceless – but not soundless – nomad through an expansive desert; your objective is the mountain in the distance.
Along the way, flapping strips of cloth attach to your nomad's headscarf, lengthening it and allowing him (or is it her?) to fly for short distances and perform acrobatic dances. The longer the scarf, the longer your nomad flies.
The game world is a desolate and lonely place, yet also has an organic feel to it. Generally it's sand for miles, with the ruins of a past civilisation half-buried sometimes emerging.
But other environments then appear: One is pastel shades, another seems like it's underwater, and the closing stages are held ransom to a raging blizzard.
Sand cascades like waterfalls from high cliffs; kite-like creatures made of cloth, trapped by some unknown power, are freed by the nomad's musical tones, emitted by pressing the circle button.
Hold down the button and your nomad unleashes a bubble of sound, used to create giant cloth pathways, linking viaducts together.
One memorable level tasks you to climb a vertical tower and ride large-cloth creatures as sand flows like a rising lake.
Another sequence reminded me of snowboarding down a mountain, guiding the nomad through gates and somersaulting off jumps. It is truly visually spectacular.
Play the game by yourself and you get a real sense of being alone – and at times all you'll do is walk through sand dunes – but where Journey really shines is when you suddenly find another player. It is a remarkable experience. There is no multiplayer lobby where players can gather and chat before embarking on a mission together. On the contrary, one moment you are alone, trudging through sand, the next there could be another player a few metres from you.
Making my way through a location where giant cloth banners floated like seaweed, another player suddenly appeared, his "tone" emanating from his head like a burst of light, indicating to me where he was. I felt no longer alone in this strange world: I was excited to see someone else and despite not being able to communicate using text or voice – just by sound – we both knew what we had to do. We were working towards the same goal without uttering a word or typing a sentence.
The game took a darker turn near the end, but my companion and I battled on, eventually reaching the snow-covered mountain, where gale-force winds impeded our progress. At one point I'm sure we lost out way and I finished the game alone.
Journey is a hauntingly beautiful game, with a delightful musical score and visuals that will delight, but it's short. Very short, in fact. I completed the game in a tad just over two and a bit hours – but I kept coming back for more, hopeful of meeting other players as I wander.
Journey is an experience as much as it is a game and shows that innovation still alive in an industry where so many games tread the tried-and-true formula.
It might not suit gamers who like playing fast-twitch shooters where satisfaction comes in blowing enemies to pieces, but Journey is one of the most emotional experiences I've felt in a long time.
For: PlayStation 3 (download only)
- The Press