Thatgamecompany, makers of Flow, Flower, and Cloud, have just released their latest game: Journey. For those of you not familiar with Thatgamecompany, they are an indie company that makes games for the Playstation 3. They make experimental games, stepping outside of established genres to create something entirely new. What makes them special is the emotion their games invoke without script, character development, or in some instances without character. It’s like playing poetry. If games have the potential for being art, Thatgamecompany are probably the closest to achieving that status, if they haven’t already.
This is the second Thatgamecompany game I’ve played, the first being Flower, and I have to admit I’ve been looking forward to this more than any mainstream title, even Mass Effect 3, Space Marine, or Skyrim. What makes this humble little game stand out amongst epics about reclaiming Earth, being an unstoppable super soldier, or roaming through a fanciful countryside shouting at dragons, is what it lacks. That is to say that it doesn’t say, anything. In both Flower and Journey there are no words spoken, at all, ever. And yet they are the most emotionally engaging games I have ever played, and I’ve played a ton of games. (Seriously, my Steam account alone has 175 games tied to it, and that’s not even counting my collection of counsel games, or games I no longer own).
In Journey you take control of a nameless, faceless wanderer, who I’m going to call Pilgrim. You journey through a desert, ruined civilization, and then up a mountain, always heading for a glowing peak in the distance. This simple goal, “go to the shiny place” had more draw than any other goal. No matter how elaborate the goal in other games was, no matter how carefully crafted, they all somehow fell short of this simple objective. My guess is it’s a Tabula Rasa, a blank slate. The goal is what you want it to be. Like everything else in the game you project what you want.
What’s weird about Journey is it’s not a single player game. It’s always a two player game, but not in a traditional sense. The game randomly pairs you up with someone, but it doesn’t tell you who. In game the only way to communicate is with a chime, and a single symbol assigned to you. They’re square pictographs that fall somewhere between southwestern Native American, and Chinese hexagrams. My symbol was broken line, broken line, broken line, four small squares. Of the partners the game gave me that I remember, arch stairs arch stairs was by far my favorite. He wasn’t as good at the game as I was, and was prone to getting lost, but that was endearing, and I looked at him in a mentor-ish sort of way. Even though we couldn’t speak, and mechanically the game neither rewarded nor punished me for having a companion, I found myself going back for him time and time again when he got lost. I eventually did lose him though, deep underground these mechanical flying snake thingies attacked us while sliding down a hill. I made it to the glowing platform that warded them off. He was right behind me. I waited for him. He never came. I nearly cried when arch stairs arch stairs never showed up, and I’m still not sure why.
I’m not sure I need to mention this, but Journey is a gorgeous game. I know the word is thrown around a lot these days, but it really is stunning. The engine they use renders sand and snow in ways I’d never seen before. When the sun set in the game it was like walking on gold dust.
Okay, at this point I’m gushing. Journey is available now on the playstation network for $14.99. That’s a steep price for an indie title but well worth it let me assure you. It’s unlike anything you’ve ever played before, and with a 2 hour play time it doesn’t overstay its welcome.