I am late to the Journey party, I know, but that hasn’t detracted from my experience. I picked up the Journey Collector’s Edition so I would have Thatgamecompany’s complete works on one disc, and I was not disappointed. My curiosity was peaked when I heard Journey’s soundtrack was the first video game nominated for a Grammy, this is huge! As a huge music lover, I knew that no matter how I felt about the game, that this was going to be something special.
Journey – This is a game that is hard to put into words because there are no words or dialogue in the game; the only sound you hear is that of stringed instruments. This game does not feature complex controls or puzzles, or a complex story line. So what makes this game so interesting? At the start of the game the player is given a simple visual cue. There is a mountain in the far off distance that the camera zooms in on, and then zooms out to the red-robed figure you will be controlling for the next two hours. Immediately it is understood that reaching the mountain is the goal and whatever lays there. Eventually you will figure out that ribbons form bridges to a statue that ends the stage, followed by a cinematic with a guardian-like figure appearing before you. After each cinematic the next location appears, growing closer to the mysterious mountain. Then, surprisingly, another red-robed figure appears in your level. Watching this figure, you can tell it is not the AI but an actual player! This player remains completely anonymous until the end—no gamer tag or any identifiers are revealed until the credits role with a player’s encountered list. Apparently you can play through the entire game with the same player, however in my experience I played with six. For my play through I mainly ignored these other players, but towards the end I found it imperative to work with the mysterious figure and wished I had tried to do so more in the previous levels.
The whole game only takes about two hours to complete, and I truly enjoyed my experience. In most games today, the experience is guided with text, dialogues, and prompts that guide us through the game, but Journey does not do this. The whole game is based on your intuition of what to explore with the simple goal of reaching the mountain. There was a level I wasn’t sure how to proceed with, but the second player started the process and I was able to figure the rest out as well as know what to do when I replay the game. The music throughout these levels conveys the right emotion for the landscape, and changes so subtly that you may not even notice it at times, such as when a new player comes into the game. Personally, I wasn’t blown away with the soundtrack, but I had extremely high expectations. I did enjoy the cellos and other orchestra elements when they were playing elongated notes to emphasize the sea of sand, or when they became a bit more whimsical when climbing up ribbons; however this type of music isn’t new to me so perhaps in an age of dubstep and rock orchestral music to a video game sounds absolutely amazing. I’m not trying to discredit the music, it is great, moving, and well matched for every level and instance, I was just left wanting something a little more.
The colors and art style of this game is one that caters to my taste, and the environments (such as sand and snow) feel wonderful. I am very pleased with the experience I had in such a short time, and I can’t wait to replay this game with a different approach (interact with other players more). I would highly recommend picking up Journey, whether you get the Collector’s Edition or download it from the PlayStation Network.
Flower – After Journey left me in numb state, craving another wordless game, I selected “Flower” to play. With the same concept of simple controls, no dialogue, and music to guide me through the game, I smiled when I saw I would be controlling a flower petal. My first and really only dislike of the game appears right away—the controls. I would have loved the option to control the flower petal(s) with either the joystick or sixaxis, but alas the option is not there and the player is forced to suffer through the sensitive controls. I would say it was about halfway through the game that I started to feel comfortable with the sixaxis controls, but I never fully mastered them. A small flaw aside, controlling the flower petal towards plots of other flowers that serve as checkpoints is the main focus of the game.
Touching these flowers cause them to bloom and activate either a trail of flower petals or a change in the environment. In the first area, there are dead grassy areas that can be filled in with lush green grass when activating flower plots nearby. The first level triggered a memory of reading Lois Lowry’s “The Giver”; seeing these dead, almost colorless, spots on the screen be filled in with the most vibrant, soft looking grass is how I imagined seeing color for the first time would be. There are a total of six levels to complete, each with its own type of goal. Flower also has dynamic orchestral music done in similar taste to Journey (or should I say, Journey in a similar taste to Flower), and has such an artistic quality that you would be hard pressed not to enjoy this game.
Flow – This is the first game from Thatgamecompany, and sadly was my least favorite. I only played this game for about 20 minutes, and the gameplay wasn’t captivating enough for me to feel like I needed to finish the game. The setting is underwater, controlling a snake-like microorganism that can absorb smaller organisms to grow larger. Some of these organisms are easier to consume than others as some are quite aggressive and will reset you back a step. Each time an organism is consumed you plummet one step further towards the unknown depth of the aquatic environment. If you fail to consume an organism (such as one attacks you), you aren’t thrust back to the beginning, you literally take one step back. This game feels more like an interactive environment instead of a game, and just didn’t grab me as a player. This game might be for you, but it wasn’t for me.
The bottom line is the Journey Collector’s Edition is packed with three curious, artistic, rich titles that are must plays. I haven’t played any game like the three, and if you want to be a well-rounded gamer, if you want a different experience, if you want a true game of artistic freedom, then you will at least play Journey and see what you have been missing.