The Average Gamer

Hands-on with the Journey Beta (PS3)

Journey_LogoWhat happens when a piece of entertainment transcends its natural barrier – in this case the player and the controller – and becomes something else entirely? This is a question that has raged in the games industry for years and continues to go criminally unanswered. Can a game be considered art? If you dismissed that thought, then I’ve got a pretty good feeling that the creators of Journey, ThatGameCompany, would have something to say.

The PS3 beta for Journey opens with you, a nameless and faceless character, seemingly alone in a world flooded by sand; a gorgeous desert where golden plains carry off in all directions as far as the eye can see. You’re pointed towards a distant rocky mountain and sent on your way.

For the most part, you are left to your own devices. As you manoeuvre your way through the landscape, sliding down giant sand dunes and floating across eerily simplistic skylines, you may come across old ruins and mysterious pieces of cloth fluttering in the wind, but never an explanation. ThatGameCompany leaves it up to you to figure out the mythos of this world.


Journey - Lost in the desert

The pieces of cloth scattered around Journey is the only empowering thing you’re likely to find in the desolate sea ahead. They latch onto you, giving you the ability to make short jumps and leaps, aiding your journey momentarily. I found myself setting small destination goals between the cloth locations and with every leap, slide and shuffle forward, a surge of victory overwhelmed my senses. It really isn’t hard to get sucked into this long walk of the cursed earth.

After the efforts of games like Shadow of Colossus and last year’s Limbo, many people are becoming open to the majesty of silence. Melancholy music may shatter the subsiding sound of the wind on occasion, but the only thing you are likely to hear on your journey are the thundering howl of your thoughts desperately trying to build a story to fit around the events you are presented with. You character does not speak; in fact a tap of the circle button will have you utter a shallow musical cry, your only form of communication.

You may have heard that Journey is a co-op experience. To an extent this is true. While you try to find yourself in the desert, you may hear the distant musical cry of another. My heart genuinely flickered to life when another soul wandered past me – begging me to follow with nothing more than a simple sing to the wind.

Journey is a quietly engaging experience, and deceptively realised.

A linear path forward may be presented to you but it is littered with many secrets. Places of interest may be hidden in crevices or behind behemoth sand mountains. Who knows what is scattered across the plains? That is where TheGameCompany’s greatest achievement lies, in this beta at least. They’ve brought a massively overbearing presence to a seemingly empty land.

Journey doesn’t hold any illusions of grandeur; those of you expecting ‘Dune’ style sand-worms to start appearing will quickly turn away disappointed. It’s all in the name – this is Journey, nothing more and certainly nothing less. It’s oft-said, “It’s not where you go, it’s how you get there that matters” and that sums up this experience better than any other.

Whether or not Journey will continue to mesmerise past these opening moments isn’t worth thinking about. What we have in front of us is an experience that could only be delivered through video games – it’s beautifully anonymous, and I ask you… how can it not be art?

Josh West blogs about comics over at Negative Zone