E3 2011 – Impressions of “Journey” (PS3)

Ever since I sat down with flOw early in the PS3’s life, I knew that the folks at thatgamecompany were bringing something new and wonderful to the table. Then Flower came out, and I was blown away. The idea that you ARE the wind was both puzzling and awesome, and the fact that the brilliant visuals pulled you even further into the experience left little for my will power to work with, and I eventually played-through the entirety of Flower in one sitting.

The games they bring to our living rooms break rules like not having a score and not even explaining the controls or for that matter, what you’re even supposed to do. But you’ll figure it out, you always do. By using visual cues throughout their games, and in a very specific context, instead of “play” the game, you discover it, just as the character that you’re controlling does, and that’s where Journey comes in.

The demo opens on a desert. Waves of heat rising from the hot sand obscure the dunes in the distance, as the light reflecting off of the sand intensely burns in an almost blinding brilliance. A small cutscene shows your character, graceful and almost floating, covered in a brown hooded cloak. Only the character’s eyes are visible, but there is emotion, and soon there will be for the player as well. No words are spoken, but occasionally you’ll have be shown a cutscene of sorts, a tool to vaguely explain what’s going on, and maybe even the reason for your journey through this desolate and lonely desert.

It is this loneliness that immediately attempts to evoke an emotional response from the player. The landscapes are beautifully envisioned on the screen, and the sound is mostly passive except for the occasional musical cue. Even without words, you start to understand the basic gameplay elements, especially since when you start out, all you can do beside move across the level is call out with a singular musical note, something that becomes essential very quickly.

As you move throughout the desert, you’ll notice small sections of rubble or large rocks. On, or more accurately, over them you’ll sometimes see small pieces of cloth floating around, or even see a larger piece that resembles a large scarf, anchored to these objects. If you’re close enough and use your musical call, the cloth changes form, releasing even more of the smaller swatches, which you can then absorb. After absorbing more and more, you’ll get to a point where you’ll be granted a new ability, which allows you to jump quite high and gives you a limited floating ability as well.

From what I can gather so far, this is all about exploration, and finding your way to the mountain that can seen far in the distance. Some other elements you’ll experience in the beta, but I don’t want to give them away.

One other mechanism in the game that I haven’t experienced past E3, but definitely needs to be told is their unique take on multiplayer. This is like nothing you’ve played online before, as there’s NO friends list support, NO voice chat, and NO party system of any kind. Unlike other “co-op” games out there, you won’t meet anyone in a lobby, but instead, you’ll just randomly come across another person roaming the desert. You can call out to that character or you can just walk by. There’s nothing even dictating that you have to work together, so you or the other person could be a complete jerk and try to screw up what you’re doing. It’s really interesting to see if this experiment works, but honestly I have a feeling that it will become a proving for a new revolution in griefing. I’ve been wrong before though…

The fact that even without using any words on the screen or in dialogue, I already kind-of understand what might be going on, proves that the specific emotional cues that they’re using in this game are actually working. It’s rare to see something like this actually deliver on the promise of emotional response. There’s a lot too take-in here, with the sunlight actually reflecting off of individual grains of sand, or the wind changing the landscape by blowing the sand everywhere, or even the character interactions with the world around you, it definitely has an amazing feel. There’s an immensity about everything, and when you realize that you’re all alone in this massive world, your emotions will kick-in for sure.

Keep your eyes right here for further info on Journey as it’s revealed. This is definitely one that we’re keeping our eyes on.

Written by Glenn Percival

Glenn Percival

Just a guy that loves games, movies, Golf, Football, and Baseball.

Podcast Co-Host, Editor-in-Chief, Video Producer, and whipping-boy

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  • Wow, that just climbed so high up the ladder of games I want this year.

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree concerning the sense of wonder and scope that the game presents. Very simple game mechanics but the why the character moves and responds to the landscape is just awesome. Torgo, great writing and a neat insight into this game.