I have never owned a Playstation 3, my console ‘career’ is quite a long one full of the typical hits, however I moved over to PC after siding with the 360 for some time. As such until last year I’d never had an opportunity to play any exclusives such as Journey, Uncharted or The Last of Us. Then Playstation Now came out and I also moved in with my Partner and we bought a PS4 so why not dive into some of the most hyped games?
I’d always heard about those 3 titles in particular; Uncharted I was interested in because I love Jak & Daxter (super jazzed to hear about their HD Re-re-release) and this was Naughty Dogs next project; The Last of Us is meant to have some of the best story telling from what I’ve heard and really sucks you into the environment and it isn’t a base-building survival game which is a nice change of pace (come on guys, we can let those games die now); Finally Journey was always held up as the icon of beautiful minimalism in an games, how short games can still justify larger price tags, which is an issue in the industry right now.
My understanding of Journey was quite simple, it’s very beautiful, it had a good story (although I hadn’t heard much on this topic, I guess due to the interpretation players are allowed) and I knew it had an odd drop in/out co-op type mechanic which sounded quite interesting. As such my expectations were quite high going in. It was a game with a lot of hype, a lot of appeal and had earned a lot of discussions and forum posts in it’s name. I was expecting something very artsy from the small screenshots I’d seen, something quite suggestive in terms of how the world was displayed to the player, and I’ll admit I also expected some sort of minor revolution of my definition of what is a “game”.
Sadly my first interaction wasn’t great, but that was due to Playstation, not That Games Company. Basically I’d bought it online and sent it to download on my PS4, awesome functionality I thought, I ended up realising it wasn’t that awesome. Eventually I managed to start playing and I was glad to feel a giddy sensation inside of me to finally be sat back with a console with a game that had a lot of noise made over it.
The first thing I noticed was the Menu. In a game of brilliant minimalism in terms of what the player can do, the menu is a great first example and foray into this mindset; You’re not here to play or tamper with options, you’re here to experience what we have to offer. I started and was very curious as one is expected to be in a new game world, I found myself asking probably the most typical questions that each gamer has done in Journey.
I thought the addition of camera control that the controller offers was quite interesting, as someone who’s been on PC for about 5+ years I’ve missed a lot in terms of the re-invention of the wheel that has been console controllers, so it was a nice touch. Something however that I thought was a lot more of an amazing touch was when I stood still after the big “Journey” splash screen you hit. The small adjustment made to the camera when standing still is a great one, it ever so slightly just pulled back and off to the left, as if I was being treated as my own separate entity – not a package deal with the character him/herself. The pull of the camera to me was saying “we’ve made this beautiful world, would you like to view it too?”, I was able to experience the amazing imagery of the vast desert filled with ruins and headstones alongside my character, not as one but separate. I like to think this is done very purposefully in order to almost bond with the character, it’s not this virtual you that you can pick up and play, this is something separate that I have to care for and can go through this with.
Very quickly I realised I was filled with such child-like glee and wonder I didn’t want to pull myself away when I felt the need for nature calling. I’m glad I did though because when I came back I found my character sat in the sand, almost meditating in the stillness of the world, just waiting for my return so that we could carry on this adventure together. A lot of things in Journey early on create a nice bond with your character and it’s all done in the small touches and suggestions like this.
After really getting to grips with all the small touches and tweaks which I thought were masterfully done as someone who is a developer/designer themselves, and which were beautiful as a player to experience, I finally got down to starting to interpret the story of Journey. I’ve read some descriptions online and not a lot of them vary hugely from my own interpretation, however I got to that first tapestry which showed what I believed was the Mountain bringing life to the desert; my first real glimpse and understanding the world in which I was standing.
As I progressed on through the initial rubble of the world that was, I was confused over some small detail which I’ve never gone back to search, which was the controller vibrating. Every now and then my controller would vibrate and I can’t remember if there was a pattern I started to notice but it was admittedly something that was never really understood. This is an issue with minimalism, you can’t do something so gently that it seems random, feedback needs to be obvious in order to make sense of it, to this day I’m still unsure and due to the lack of things a player can do I can only assume maybe it’s what happens when a player drops in or out of your world. I did end up finding a player in the second section, the quite contained collapsed bridge segment. It felt as others had described in their descriptions of Journey, it was quite natural and nice, however I am quite torn over it; My first reaction was how good and smooth the co-op transition was, however I wanted to experience the world alone; I wanted this for me, for me to understand, for me to explore and to do so in the empty rubble and ruins which I was provided, I didn’t want others unlocking segments of puzzles or the world for me. I grant it’s a very selfish approach to take, however in an empty world I also feel it’s naturally more fitting. This is combated however by the fact that being cooperative has benefits such as the restoration of each others scarf magic by either touching or making those lovely sound balloons.
My experience of Journey was cut at that point in order to make room for my and my partners nightly show (Vikings, DareDevil & Mr.Robot have been just a few recently), so I had to stop just before the amazing surfing section of the third area in the game. When I came back a whole 6 days later I was blown away by the grace of the world drifting by as I surfed by way down the dunes, the light glinting off seemingly every grain of sand to give the world a real shine. As much as I loved this section part of me, the completion-ist part, was upset that I couldn’t explore this section as well as I had done in the previous areas to look for further Scarf Magic.
Speaking of the need for more Scarf Magic, that was the next part of the story to be revealed to me. The people that once lived in the now sand swept ruins had fought over the Scarf Magic to the point where something different came along, what I didn’t know at the time was that this something would soon be meeting myself. Before I took the plunge in Journey I came across another companion and together we braved the depths to which we’d soon be plummeting. As they walked forward into the clearing the Sentinel reared and attacked them. It was at this point where Journey didn’t become a game of beauty to me, but one that required a survivors mentality. I found myself running across the open ground leaving my new companion to be attacked again and again by the Sentinel, it came to a slightly dark period when I finally reached a pillar to hide behind and pinged. And pinged. And pinged. My Scarf was untouched but my morals were left somewhat tattered.
Finally I made my way to the end of the section to have it revealed that the Sentinels had killed others and created this barren wasteland in their wake, until I came along. I kept going with Journey, at this point sucked in by the want to know what came next, and also to see what I’d reveal of myself going forward; Would I leave another to be killed or die? Would I understand the world I was in? Would I even know what I had to do? It turns out that my path was to be told to me by one of the White Strangers, or to my mind one of the Mothers (I also didn’t know there was 6 until the end!), in one of the ultimate tapestries it was revealed to me that I’d have to climb the mountain, but more than that I’d have to suffer. I found some odd beauty in that moment, the prophesy that I’d be made to suffer in the final segment of my Journey, that I would come this far and it hadn’t gotten easier, I don’t know more, I now have to push harder than ever to reach my destination, and what’s more I knew it was going to happen to my character. Given the bonding that had occurred through the game, I felt bad that I was in charge and was going to put my Traveler through this pain just to know how it all ended.
The mountain section was as foretold. I found the change to be very fitting if frustrating; I was at the end of my Journey, tired and cold and against very strong elements which caused by character to slow and struggle through, but all I could do was mentally rush towards that finish line. It was a great clash between Will & Game. I remember seeing my character struggle, and despite being the one pushing them I still felt powerless like I had been dragged to the mountain just the same. Then it happened, the mountain in a flash seemed to blend into the snow and disappear. I had pushed my character through the scorching desert, through hostile Sentinels, and finally dragged the block of ice they’d become up a mountain to have it disappear in front of me. I could only blame myself and whisper “come on little man, you can do it”. He couldn’t.
Then, strangely, the next thing I know I’ve been transported from the near monochromatic landscape of the snowy mountain peak to a beautiful vividly coloured and detailed sky. It was like my character and myself had woken up and were seeing colour for the first time due to the stark contrast. What I loved more than the amazing scenery was the lift of restrictions on my character, I was set loose to fly free and enjoy the full effect of the Scarf Magic. Finally I walked into the light and watched how I was born into a star and traveled back, back through the mountain, back through the Sentinels den, back through the blazing desert until I was to land in the sand for the ‘second’ time. It was a great way to set up effectively a new game plus type functionality.
At this point I must profess ignorance to the ends actual meaning, and the purpose of the 6 Mothers. I’ve seen ideas that it’s a Groundhog day type scenario and due to the abuse of the Scarf Magic I was forced to live through the consequences of my peoples actions again and again; There have been ideas that it’s some form of purgatory where you repent for abusing Scarf Magic; I’ve even seen an idea that every one must make the Journey for their role, it’s not necessarily religion just this is what happens now. Personally I don’t know, I really don’t, all I know is how I felt and that was worth more than the answers I’d get from the ‘real’ or ‘original’ meaning that the developers had in mind.
Journey really was beautiful, and much like my article on Mass Effect 2’s DLC (Overlord) it made me realise things about myself as a player. What I find a funny struggle though is that I would like to play the game again, sans note-making for the purpose of this blog, but at the same time I don’t feel I can truly bring myself to push my character through all the suffering that would come with it. I’m not sure if I’d explore the world to get answers, to rush through in order to save my character from hurt, I don’t know. I am however happy with what I’ve had, and if it stays as that because I can’t bring myself to push another innocent through that then I’m fine with what I had.