Tuesday, March 27, 2012

My Journey  


Games: So, Journey.

My review schedule was quite full when this much-anticipated project from thatgamecompany was released on PSN, and last night was the first chance I had to get to it. I was a huge fan of fl0w, I loved Flower, and I've been looking forward to Journey ever since I knew about it. While I was playing, several people asked what my opinion was, and I knew that there was absolutely no way I could even begin to address the topic over Twitter. Hence, this entry.

My thoughts on the game follow, but please be aware that much of what I am about to say could be considered a spoiler, and I do think that anyone intending to play the game should come to absolutely fresh. If you haven't already been through Journey, do not read this blog post.

Seriously, spoiler warning.  

So, first things first, the game is absolutely beautiful from a visual perspective. The colors, the level of detail, the abstract and stylized characters... just stunning. The soundtrack is equally amazing, and this is coming from someone who usually doesn't pay much attention to music in games. Presentation-wise, this game is absolutely at the top of its class.

As for the rest? Well, I'm a bit mixed.

Prior to starting, everyone on Twitter was telling me that I should make sure that my PS3 was connected in order to take advantage of the online “co-op” feature. That's exactly what I did, although to be honest after going through the game once, I wish I had unplugged my console and gone through it solo first.


When my first "partner" appeared, they didn't seem at all interested in interacting with me and proceeded to complete all of the objectives in the current area. I was still learning the game and not sure exactly what was going on, so to have this person do everything in the level while I was still taking everything in was disappointing. Effectively, I entered the area, this person did everything while I had no say in the matter, and then I simply walked to the next part of the game.

In the next part, I couldn't tell if my partner was the same or a different (I had a total of five over the course of play) but they forged ahead without me and somehow managed to activate a flock of flying scarf creatures and made a beeline for the end of the area. None of the scarf creatures held back with me, so I was stuck walking across the dunes while I could see this person in the distance floating and jumping, moving swiftly ahead.

To be perfectly frank, I was getting disappointed by this time. Not only was my sense of discovery taken away by this person (or persons) who performed all the activities without me and left me to trudge from point A to point B, there wasn't anything left for me to do

Journey doesn't have many activities to start with, so to have the few that exist taken out of my hands left a bad taste in my mouth. Prior to playing the game, I heard people talking about feelings of camaraderie or making some sort of connection with the partners have appeared, but I didn't find that to be my experience at all. Instead, I think I resented the fact that this beautiful landscape was being shared with people who had no interest in partaking of it with me, and for a game of this sort, I'd say that the first experience is always going to be the strongest impression.

The only time any of the partners in the game meant anything to me was when I reached the snowy area near the end. Brendan Keogh has said that perhaps the forced togetherness in that section is more a result of shared misery rather than genuine companionship, and I'm inclined to agree. However, by the developers giving a reason for the players to stick together, I felt as though that particular implementation of the "partnership" was the most effective in the entire game. (I wish there'd been more of it, really!)

Unfortunately, I felt as though this snowy area went on for far too long. Prior to that, each level has a strong flow and seemed keen on generating a particular emotion or response, but the snow was just an endless slog that felt like it went on for eternity. Perhaps I got lost, or maybe it was simply meant to be that long, but rather than feeling as if I was struggling against something, my attention started to wander and I grew frustrated at the endless white. I can't help but feel that if it was shorter, it would have more properly conveyed a sense of being a final push, rather than coming off as too much walking in too much white.

While I enjoyed much of the tone and visual of Journey, after having finished, I have to say that I left feeling a little hollow and unsatisfied. It was both shorter and less interactive than I had been hoping for, and I didn't have the fortune of teaming up with people who were interested in cultivating a shared experience. 

With no disrespect to the developers, I have to admit that for much of the time I felt as though I was simply pressing up on the control stick without much happening – both fl0w and Flower did more to engage me as a player, whereas in Journey I felt like much more of an observer. I certainly wouldn't have wanted a combat engine or a ton of labyrinthine puzzles included, but when the game asks the player to participate, it comes alive and it's a beautiful thing. Dodging the scary flying monsters in the underworld was tense, and jumping from platform to platform was truly enjoyable. I just craved... more.

In any event, getting back to the multiplayer... I give great respect to thatgamecompany for doing something completely different with it, much like what From did in Demon's Souls. I would love to see more experimentation with integrating players into nonstandard multiplayer modes, but the other side of that is that when it's as open and free form as it is in Journey, it's a gamble. No one can guarantee how other players will participate, and my guess is that I had the misfortune of falling in with a series of Trophy hunters who probably already completed the game several times. Having that type of a partner for my very first experience was a sour one, and like I said earlier, had I known that would've happened, I would have disconnected my PS3 from the Internet and gone ahead solo.

Oh, and that ending? Hated it. I kept waiting for the land to come alive, or something significant to happen, yet the only thing that comes of Journey’s journey is that you get booted back to the starting place? Maybe there was something Zen or meditative meant there, but it didn't click with me and I felt as though nothing happened, nothing changed, nothing was achieved. So these little red nomads are dedicated towards making their way to the mountain over and over and over again? For what? Maybe some are satisfied with this resolution, but it missed the mark for me.

Don't get me wrong -- overall, I love the fact that Journey is even a thing -- that it was made and released on a major console, and that it got tons of press and attention. It's painfully beautiful in many ways and when the nomad is flying and jumping and skating down rivers of sand, I had a smile on my face. Experimentation of this sort is only ever a good thing, and I want to see more and more of it. In terms of my personal experience with Journey, I'm glad that I played it and I was happy to support it, but it left me feeling untouched and unsatisfied. 


What next?

You can also bookmark this post using your favorite bookmarking service:

Related Posts by Categories

6 comments: to “ My Journey


    I felt FULL after playing Flower. I felt very little or nothing after playing Journey.

    I thought the main thrust of the game was your bond with the other player, and I could tell that different people were coming in and out of the game... it sorta bothered me.

    I didn't mind the behavior of the other players as much, but I could see how that could definitely impact the experience.


    Excellent write-up, thanks. I am glad I read this.

  • Flo


    I can see how having the wrong companions thrown in could potentially ruin the experience. I think you just got really unlucky. Personally, I had a very uplifting journey. It only became apparent to me twice that my companion had switched, when in the end, I learned I'd had as many as eight different companions. Apart from the first who immediately ran away, I enjoyed all them.

    Also, what's that about not liking the ending? That's funny coming from someone who was okay with the ending of ME3.... alright, I'll stop.

  • upselo


    I feel a bit sorry for you. Obviously the experience was not as good as it could have been since your partners were not on the same wavelength (surely because they knew the game so well by now).
    I still think Journey is a better game by not forcing any coop upon the players, that way when it happens it is more genuine, but it does leave the possibility that one player will power through the game leaving the other in the dust.
    Subsequent playthroughs, if not as impressive, are still worthwile (very well described here http://deadpixel.co/2012/03/journey/).


    Hey Brad, thanks for the writeup.

    I touched on this point very briefly in my review, but I wish I had more time to discuss it... I did fear that all these people praising how great the multiplayer was and that journeying with the one or two people they met along the way to the climax of the game made all the difference to them were just lucky because they happened to be reviewing the title early on and thus that meant there were fewer people playing, period. And of course they all wanted to help each other to get to the end – none of them had ever played before, and 90% were reviewing it! (then you had some of the PS+ subscribers who got it a week early)

    Now that the title's been out for a while, most people that really wanted to play it already have, and multiple times, so it stands to reason that the people you're most likely to run into are probably just looking for the last few symbols they missed or trying to get all the trophies.

    Personally, a good first half of my first journey was full of people similar to the ones you met, and I DID NOT have fun at all. It was only when I ran into someone who really valued creating a companionship that I began to see the title as something special.

    I view these encounters much as I do the people one meets and interacts with over the course of life, which made it all sit a little easier with me. But in the end, it's a shame that everyone can't have great online experiences all the time.

    And I can totally understand how you felt the snowy area dragged on too long. I very much agree.


    What a pity you didn't run into another new player, or at least more friendly ones. Unfriendly players are always a risk in online games, of course. If nothing else, your experience demonstrates to me that Bart over at TAG is wrong to conclude that the game is moralistic and paternalistic. but it's an unfortunate irony that the automatic, anonymous matchmaking can yield worse results—like your case—than leaving the player to choose a multiplayer partner as is traditional. And when many aspects of the game are designed to engender delight in interacting with your fellow player, it's unfortunate that you've had nearly the opposite experience.

    Regarding Flower—I've not played fl0w—I found it much less engaging to play. All there was to do was follow along the predesigned curves of flowers, until I had been past them all. It was pleasant and relaxing to do so—except when struggling with the lack of feedback on the tilt controls—but no more than tha. Journey has only a few more game elements, but I found them much more engaging.