Thursday, September 15, 2016

Games Review: Journey

One of the big downsides of the PS4 is the need to pay for Playstationplus if I want to get online and play Overwatch or Destiny. Grrr. However, this bitter pill is sweetened somewhat by the monthly provision of free games to subscribers, which is actually a pretty cool idea. Each month I've subscribed I've got a couple of free games just for being a subscriber, ranging from small indie puzzlers to larger releases. It's an eclectic mix of choices, to be sure, and some of them will be rubbish (or of no interest) but others are big titles from earlier times. This month, one of the titles is the lauded PS3 indie Journey, which I'd previously missed out on. And now it was free! 

I got all the way through Journey in about 90 minutes, end to end. Gameplay is simple enough; you run through a series of open levels, following a fairly linear path through a ruined city, towards a distant mountain. You have two abilities that unlock early in the game - you can jump and soar, using charge that is displayed as glowing runes on your scarf,  and you can sing. Singing "activates" some elements of the scenery, but also acts as a simple form of communication with other souls you meet on the way. These souls are other players, running and explorig in parallel, singing back to you. 

The critical thing to come to understand is thaht Journey is extremely well named.  This isn't really a game, as such - what few puzzles there are, are extremely straightforward, and choices are extremely limited. For all the open environments look at first, the paths are pretty linear and direct. It is all about moving from the Desert to the Mountain, and the game is focused on making that an experience for the player, making them feel. 

And it's really successful at it. The art and music in Journey is, frankly, amazing. As you run, or slide, or fight against the wind, the game is outstandingly beautiful, the colours shifting with each level, as you move through the ruins, deeper and deeper, and then higher and higher. Along the way the history unfolds wordlessly in small cutscenes, letting you piece together, or read into, the story as it's presented. And in the end, the game gives you the emotional catharsis it's been promising, some elegant, and thoughtful, and totally worth of a couple of hours of your time.