Monday, 20 August 2012

It's not about the destination - by Dr. Liam Fielder

After recently being reunited with my wonderful PS3 following a 6 month absence in my life, there was one game that topped my list of priorities; Journey. After the success of their previous releases, Flow and Flower, Journey is thatgamecompany’s third and, if I may use a term that is often thrown around, most ambitious game.

Just in case any of your aren’t familiar with Journey, the premise is simple, you are a lone robed figure in vast desert, and ahead of you in the distance is a large and awe-inspiring mountain, from the top of which shines a bright light, reaching towards the sky. In case the objective of the game is not immediately clear; you must walk towards the aforementioned mountain.

How were we supposed to figure that out?

In order to achieve this you have at your disposal the ability to move, jump, and depending on the length of your scarf, fly. It’s a relatively simple concept in keeping with thatgamecompany’s usual approach to game design; if the mechanic does not contribute towards the desired emotion, it isn’t included.

Just like in Duke Nukem Forever.

However, character control doesn’t stop there, the most important mechanic in Journey is the ability to release a short burst of song, allowing you to communicate with other players. Oh, Journey is a multiplayer game by the way, but not in the traditional sense; the players you randomly meet on your adventure are anonymous, and you have no way of communicating with them aside from whatever creative singing patterns you can come up with. Given the choice between teaming up or going it alone (Dark Souls style) it’s probably no surprise that I choose to continue my journey with my new companion.

Together we travelled through the vast desert and ancient ruins, learning of a long-dead civilisation, before eventually reaching a climax that will rank amongst my favourite game endings. Against the anonymity, a bond had formed, at one point when we were separated from each other in a near white-out I found myself immediately panicked and began calling out. And so despite the astonishing sound design and spectacular visuals that all contributed to the experience, part of me knows Journey would not have been the same should I have chosen to play offline, and it is here that we have a problem.

Unless of course, you don't give a shit about other people.

As the game was already five months old by the time I was able to play it, I feared that I would end up alone in my adventure (I later released how foolish this view was, considering the game only requires two people in the entire world to be playing at any given time for this mechanic to work…) and although this was not a problem, I realised that there will come a time when the Journey server support will stop, and the game will cease to offer the opportunity for such an emotional connection.

Online support is not uncommon, in fact, many games these days incorporate it in some way or another, whether through a complex and unnecessary Diablo III model, or a simple tagged on multiplayer, so we can expect online support to continue for some time to come. However for those few games like Journey which rely so heavily on such support, it saddens me to know that unlike the classics accumulating dust at the back of my cupboard, not even blowing in the cartridge will fix the problem that time will bring to Journey.

PS. In case the objective of this article is not immediately clear; play Journey before it’s too late.

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