It was a Sunday night whim that got me playing the game Journey for the PlayStation 4. The hubs, BuriedOnMars, had tried playing this game earlier in the week and dropped it. But, he encouraged me to try it out to see how I liked it. I knew nothing about it going in, except that it was a type of walking simulator, which I very much enjoy (Firewatch, Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture).
In the first scene of Journey we see an expanse of desert sand and a hazy sun in the sky; a sweeping violin music sets a melancholic mood. A star falls from the sky, and what we see rise up is a striking robed figure which is the character you maneuver. You lead this character across the sandy plain to come upon hilltop stone markers with bits of ripped cloth tied to them, blowing in the breeze. A high mountain presents itself in the distance, a bright beam of light shining at its apex. This is your destination – your destiny – as you traverse the desert. The bits of cloth are your life line. You play a tiny chime and the rags come to life by extending yours, and by chiming in, your character develops a scarf-like garment that flows behind them in the wind – an important garment that allows your character the ability to jump and fly to great heights. This trait is important as it gives your character the ability to complete brief but important tasks to allow you to pass on to the next level.
Along the way, you encounter other figures like yourself – these are actual gamers in their own game networked in through the PSN, who like you are trying to reach the mountain. At this point you encounter a handful of companions that help you complete levels and get to the end. The game takes under two hours to complete.
The first thing that drew me in was the graphics and the music. The game had a middle-eastern flavour, which I particularly liked. The music was beautiful, and reminded me a lot of Glass Masquerade as it really gave the game that mystery flair. I am also a sucker for odd-looking characters with a mysterious past, and Journey‘s main character certainly fits the bill. The game looked great. The controls were simple enough: using the PS4 controller, besides the sticks, you really only had two buttons to worry about – X and O – which I can definitely get behind. Great music, neat-looking characters, gorgeous graphics, easy gameplay…what’s not to like?
Well…I kept wondering what the punchline to Journey was…what was the end game…the point?
Was I leading this character from birth to death? …The harsh landscape they must travel to reach higher heights…the fluidity of relationships as people enter the game and depart just as quickly. The symbolism is palpable which wasn’t the issue for me – I could actually get behind the theme. I had one serious problem with an integral part to the gameplay: I did not like the fact other players could enter my game to “help” me.
I encountered about 6 other players while in Journey, and found most to be a nuisance. Aside from one guy who stopped by to chime “Hi” and disappear, the majority walked in and took over everything, completing important tasks in the game before I was given a chance to even figure out what I was supposed to do. They were just too damn fast for me! I remember turning to BuriedOnMars and saying, “WTF? Get the eff out of my game! Whose game is this supposed to be anyway??” I was trailing behind these strangers like some pathetic chump while they leveled us both up.
I didn’t get that sense of accomplishment obtained by completing the game myself. This goes beyond co-op: when the hubs and I game, we are doing things together and taking turns on tasks that make sense for a multi-player game. Borderlands is a great example of co-op done well. Journey, on the other hand, had one linear task to complete at a time, and tasks that were really only meant to be completed by one player. So when you have two people, and the stronger player completes all the necessary tasks like they were trying to beat the game in record time, what am I left with?
I don’t like feeling inadequate when gaming, let alone in my life. I know myself well enough to know Journey‘s multiplayer component did not match my will at all. I am stubborn, I have endurance, I am passionate, and I am fiercely independent. If anything, my journey in playing this game highlighted those characteristics in me. So, I suppose I can say then that Journey has the “metaphor for life” analogy nailed down…especially when you’re dealing with me.
2.75/5 the rest
Journey (PS4) (available for the PS3 too)