Going on a Journey..

Hey guys, as a result of going on holiday and various other shenanigans it’s been a while since I posted anything on here.

After a notification from a fellow blogger on here ( Seven Florins) and after reading his post, I feel the need to put finger to key ( pen to paper is still a better simile, but it’s the best I can do) I felt the need to comment on his post and write my own thoughts down on Journey.

Recently Sony and thatgamecompany released an optimised PS4 version of their modern classic. Yes, I said modern classic. Let’s get this out of the way first. I disagree with Seven. I really enjoyed Journey on both the PS3 *and* PS4, and have played through it a couple of times on each platform. He knows i disagree with him as this was the general point of my comment on his post earlier today.

So, what is it about Journey that I like?

Well first of all Journey has a simple premise that is executed flawlessly. You are a.. something, what you are is never really explained, but you are one of them ( and it doesn’t really matter, it’s the experience rather than the story that is key here).

The game opens in the middle of a desert with no explanation and very little tutorial to speak of.. I’ll discuss the setting in a bit, but first…

Controls

In terms of tutorial, you get the obligatory, “these are the basic controls” thing, and yes, following on from Flower, you can use motion controls ( which kind of work, but I have to admit I never used them more than a bit at the beginning). The controls are dead simple, nothing to scary for the casual gamer ( which in some ways this is who the game is targeted at – in others it is not, but we’ll come to that later).

So, basic controls are, left stick to move your character, right stick (or motion) to move the camera. X jumps and O does this shouty, bubble thing, the longer you press it the bigger the bubble – this is partly gameplay mechanic allowing you to gather resources ( I’m going to call it mana for want of a better word) and partly a communication tool ( Again, something I’ll come back to later).. And that’s about it. I think. There’s nothing else that springs to mind right now anyway…

The controls are tight and well implemented, making the game feel very simple and easy to play.

Graphics

Okay, so back to that desert. Wow. That is one of the most impressive looking worlds I’ve ever seen in a game. You are dropped in the middle of a desert, surrounded by sand and dunes, your only clue is a distant tower. When you start heading towards it, the sand flows perfectly around you. Your character struggles up dunes and slides down them.. Everything feels and looks weighty and flows just like you’d expect.

I don’t think that the developer has done a huge amount of work on the graphics (although someone will no doubt tell me I’m wrong) – it really doesn’t matter though. Some of the later locales look genuinely stunning, even on the PS3, but here on the PS4 things look just a little bit smoother. At no point have I noticed anything glitch or break.

Here is a little gallery of just how gorgeous this game can look.

Gameplay

The game is very easy to play, thatgamecompany have done their usual thing of no death conditions. Things happen that can make areas more difficult, but as far as I am aware you cannot die. You can lose mana ( which can usually be replenished fairly easily nearly) but that’s about it. You can gather bonuses which mean you can carry more mana ( stored in your scarf so as you gather bonuses your scarf gets longer) and using the same shout / gather button near other items to gather mana. In multiplayer you simply need to be close to the other player to refill your scarf / mana.

This mana is used when you jump, the longer your scarf (the more mana you have) the higher / longer you can jump.

And then it becomes a little bit of a puzzle game, “can I make that jump?” If not find an alternative route or find more bonuses… It’s never too difficult though and with a friendly helper (thanks to the multiplayer) it’s never that complicated to work out where you need to go.

This game shines in online multiplayer. Online play is implemented in a very unique way – if you are playing the game and are connected to the PSN, are trundling through the various locations then the game will match-make you with another player ( behind the scenes) who will then appear in your area ( and you’ll appear in theirs). These other players will be doing the same thing as you, working through the game and may simply pass through and progress faster than you, but sometimes something wonderful happens, and you work together through the world.

You will not know who they are until the end of the game, where you find out their PSN IDs and you cannot talk to them. Well you can, sort of. Using the shout / gather button you can convey a surprising amount to those you are playing with. Shouts that appear to signify “Hello” or “oh look what I found” or “I’m over here are you coming?” happen naturally and you soon get the hang of this most basic form of monosyllabic communication.

By not including a chat or matchmaking option, and not telling you who you are playing with, thatgamecompany have created an online multiplayer game without any of the trash talk or general downside of online gaming…by only giving one method of communication they have limited that to whatever you want it to be… I have only ever experienced people wanting to help each other… And that is an achievement in itself irl let alone for online gaming.

Summary

Journey just feels nice and friendly and that is what I like about it, it’s that nice comfortable sofa that you feel happy on, those comfy pants you just can’t bear to throw out…A casual game that has so much screen appeal.

Which brings me to what I said earlier about this being a casual game. Yes, it isn’t particularly challenging ( it only takes a couple of hours to play right through) but, despite all the attempts to make it feel like a casual game, it feels deeper. It isn’t something that would appeal to a casual gamer, they would probably pass it by, ignoring it for more casual looking games. Hardcore gamers, those who are willing to explore the indie side of gaming and try something new are the only people who will be looking at this and spending the time playing it. That is, unless you are in the same household and see it being played. ( See Seven Florins post for more on this), I am tempted to share this with my non-gaming other half when she next visits.. and bearing in mind how she struggled to play Worms: United it could be a fun experience

So there’s you go.

This is an excellent indie game ( I think I paid about a tenner for it back on the PS3 – the PS4 version is free if you had it on the previous generation) that is pushing the boundaries of what counts as an indie game. Surely by now thatgamecompany are a serious developer…but you know what? I don’t care. As an experience it is worth what I paid for it.

Yes, people will discuss if it is a ‘game’, but in my opinion as an interactive experience ( which is how *I* define a game) this is one of the greats of the last generation, and having it on the new generation will hopefully mean more people will play it.

As I said to Seven Florins, yes it may be a shallow experience compared to other games out there ( I may have cast aspersions on the intellectual capacity of Scarlett Johanssen – and for that I am sorry – Scarlett, I’m happy to discuss this in person if you want to get in touch) but boy is it pretty, and sometimes, the most important thing is that you have a fun experience.

For me it is a fun experience and a much easier one to pick up and play than something like Unfinished Swan, which I did enjoy, but had much more complex mechanics.

Think of it as that film you were told you should watch, that you had never heard of, that left a lasting impression on you for no reason that you can fathom. Give it a shot, and as the advertising slogan used to say “try it, you might like it” or “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Okay, rambling post is over ( for now…)

Matt

Ps. Yes, I am still playing Bloodborne ( Which the other half described as”proper scary” the other day!)

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