Friday, August 3, 2012

Journey: A Review

When I was a kid, my father used to take me to various parks around the city. We had special names for the parks such as mulberry park, for its mulberry trees, or golf ball park where we would find lots of golf balls because it was next to a golf course. Over the past couple decades, my father has forgotten some of these locations and without their proper name I will never find them again. At one of these lost parks I met another boy with a spirit for adventure. We ran around the play structure, explored it as though it were lost ruins, and sailed it like a ship. After what felt like forever, but probably was only an hour, it was time for me to go home. I told my friend I would meet him next Saturday, but without our parents involved in the logistics, I would never see him again. That is Journey in a nutshell.

I could go on about how deserts haven’t looked this good since Lawrence of Arabia or how the score punctuates the mood, but what’s remarkable about this game is not how they did things right but how how things didn’t go wrong. Of particular note is the online multiplayer experience. It is impossible detract from the experience of another player. You can’t talk to the other player to say something about their mom. You can only chirp with various durations, which also emit a proportionately sized aura that recharges the others flight power. You can’t chirp fast enough to be annoying, and I only managed to signal f... u... in Morse Code before I got bored with it. Odds are the other player wasn’t a telegraph operator anyway. Writing things with footprints in the shifting sands is out too; it settles to fast. The most unpleasant thing that has happened to me was when someone walked away when I was trying to make friends. That can hurt a guy’s feelings, you know.

When it comes to positive interaction, that is where this game shines. When you’re close to another player you recharge each others flight power. When you use the largest call it gives the other player a helpful boost. Skilled players can fly together forever by recharging each other in mid air with touching and singing. Journey could win an award for being the first simulation of what it’s really like to be a bird. Let me tell you, if I was a bird, I’d be singing all the time too. The flight in Journey is not just about flying around. It is also dancing. When you turn around you do a little pirouette, with your glorious scarf twirling behind you like a ribbon dancer. Here’s a quick walkthrough of the six areas: dancing by your self, dancing with a friend, dancing while downhill skiing, dancing in the dark, dancing on a stage, and dancing against all odds. I think there might be some plot as well. I can’t remember.

What amazes me about this game is how much it actually feels like a Journey with someone else. By the time you get to the end, if you’ve been with them long enough, you feel like you actually know them. You want to help them to the end as they struggle up the mountain. On a second playthrough you want to be their guide to all the secret parts, just as someone else led you there on your first time. There’s an overall feeling of community even though you can’t talk and may never see anyone else again. On one playthrough I had to quit half way because someone was at the door. However, I accidentally didn’t quit. My character just sat down instead. When I came back ten minutes later, the other adventurer was still there watching over me. Whomever you are, I hope to see you next Saturday.