I loved Flower. Really, I love any game that allows us to see interactive entertainment from a fresh viewpoint, which is why new experiences like Heavy Rain have a tremendous and memorable impact on me. Therefore, I needed to know more about thatgamecompany’s new project the instant it was announced, and now that E3 is over, I think we’ve got enough to provide you with an exciting preview. However, before pushing forward, I will say that Journey is destined to cater to a certain type of gamer; someone who appreciates originality and artistic achievement and realizes that explosions and flashy graphics aren’t required elements of the industry. You can probably tell from the screenshots that much of this game’s appeal will lie in the mystery and unique atmosphere. In the end, Jenova Chen and Co. want us to remember what it’s like to be small and humble; what it’s like have respect and awe for the world.
Interestingly enough, the idea for Journey came from a conversation Chen had with an astronaut. The latter individual explained that anyone who actually landed on the moon returns to earth with a new outlook on life, regardless of their religious orientation. It’s all in the perspective, obviously, and this concept is what thatgamecompany wants to create. In the game, you wake up without knowing who, where or even when you are; you’re in the midst of an expansive, seemingly endless, desert, and the only point of interest is a massive mountain that looms on the horizon. If this doesn’t make you feel small, nothing will. Now, it seems as if the meat of the gameplay will take place online and it sort of reminds me of how From Software dealt with online connectivity in Demon’s Souls. Essentially, as you embark on your long hike, you will encounter other people at random times and if that happens, you are presented with new options.
Do you travel with them? Simply trade information and move on your way? It’s up to you. In this way, thatgamecompany isn’t even sure if the game will work in an offline setting, although you supposedly can play it all by yourself. The controls are as straightforward as can be: the left analog predictably handles movement, one button will allow you to jump, and another lets you call or sing. The latter is designed to communicate with other players and as a bit of a twist (although not so much if you played Flower), the Sixaxis tilt controls are used to look around. As for your environment…well, there’s a lot of sand, if you hadn’t noticed. But it should look quite good and if you’re feeling creative, you can even draw in the sand; perhaps this means we could leave messages ala Demon’s Souls, too…? Sand will even collect into huge waves of sorts that you can actually ride, and you’ll spot sand-falls as well.
But there’s one last aspect of the movement and gameplay: they’re currently working on a small flying mechanic. Your robe is always blowing in the winds that crisscross the desert and every now and then, you’ll stumble across scraps of cloth that can be used to fly short distances. Bigger pieces of cloth can actually be “harmonized” to assist you; i.e, a long piece of cloth will stretch out rigidly to act as a bridge after being harmonized. Not surprisingly, getting to that aforementioned mountain will take a bit of persistence and ingenuity, as multiple obstacles lie in your path. Here’s where some puzzle-solving comes in, and it sounds awfully interesting when combined with the “flying” or “harmonizing.” Yes, it may be easier to bypass certain hurdles with the aid of another adventurer, but there’s one thing to remember: voice chat will not be allowed. thatgamecompany wants the entire experience to remain anonymous; you must communicate with others as best you can without straightforward talking.
At this point, you might be thinking, “what if a ton of people are online at once? Won’t the whole desert be loaded with players, thereby messing up the feel of vastness and emptiness?” The answer to that is “no,” because according to what the designers told IGN, even if a million people are involved in the game, the world won’t feel crowded at all. Furthermore, you’ll only encounter one other individual at a given time, so it won’t be like PlayStation Home in the desert. But there are other potential problems the developers are currently looking into: for instance, as everyone is part of the same world, what if all the puzzles are solved before you get there, making your trek extra easy? That’s just one example of the issues that face this ambitious project. Lastly, when you finally reach that mountain, your adventure probably won’t end…in other words, there’s every chance you won’t see everything there is to see during that first hike.
Journey sounds like another unbelievably unique experience and we can’t wait. The industry needs more stuff like this.
6/22/2010 Ben Dutka