I purchased Journey last night after discovering that, as a Playstation Plus subscriber, I had access to the game early. Since I’m on a low tier DSL connection, I let it download and install overnight, and woke up early not because I was gung-ho to play it, but because my internal clock thought it was time to go to work.
Let me backtrack. I haven’t played Flower or Flow, so this is my first experience with a game from Thatgamecompany. I just say that as a disclaimer, so you don’t expect any discussion of how Journey compares to either of those games.
And now we’re back. So I played a few minutes worth of Journey this morning, but nothing terribly in-depth, just enough to get a sense of the game: You’re a lone traveler, in a brown robe (think very tall Jawa) and you’re in a desert. There’s a mountain in the distance. You are going to walk toward the mountain. That is your goal. There are things along the way. Simple, elegant, beautiful things. You learn about this world, you solve simple puzzles. You gain an ability to jump and float. There’s magic.
To be more specific would discredit the joy that is this game. It’s something you should experience first hand so you can experience your own sense of pleasure. The robed figure that is your avatar is just abstract enough that putting yourself in the position of this traveler is easily achieved. But something startling occurred when I picked the game back up late this afternoon.
As I started playing, another player was visible to me. This won’t be uncommon. If you have an active Internet connection while playing, a single player other will be visible to you. You cannot communicate with the person through voice or text, like you would with a shooter or an MMO. You can only press the O button to release a small tone and an image of your symbol. The length of time you hold down on the O button determines how loud the tone is and how large the symbol appears on the screen. This is how you will communicate with anyone else in the game.
I gave a brief tap of my O button, basically just saying “Hello.” They replied with a similarly brief tap. From there, I must say, we became companions. We worked to solve puzzles together, exchanging brief tonal conversations during exciting parts. At a few points, where I was struggling with jumping and floating, this person waited for me to finish the section, tapping their O button so I had a sense of where to go. In another, more dangerous section, the tension was palpable as we dodged obstacles and ran to check on each other.
Despite our inability to communicate in a way that we’re typically used to in a game, or even in person, something of a bond had been formed. That fact that this player waited for me, even though I was struggling touched me, made me feel special. There’s nothing in the game that cannot be completed alone (well, a few PSN Trophies require a companion), you don’t need a companion. It just…eliminates a sense of isolation in completing what feels like a daunting trek.
Due to that player’s willingness to wait for me and their willingness to engage me in “conversation”, I was legitimately sad when the other’s avatar sat down, and then disappeared. They had exited the game, leaving me by myself. And we were so close to the end, I thought (it turns out we were)! And they had left! And I was alone again. It was an unpleasant feeling, that they had just left. I don’t even think the player had “said” good bye.
I waited in the area where the player had vanished for a few minutes. I fooled around in a little alcove, hoping they’d come back and find me waiting. Instead, another player appeared, one who did not reply to my tones and symbol, ignoring me entirely. Another player, after I had advanced past the second one, did the same; but I think I met up with this player at the very end of the game. We finished Journey together, but it didn’t mean anything to me that I had finished this game with a unknown stranger. I wanted to finish it with the known stranger I had met so close to the beginning of the game.
This experience, for me, is what makes Journey a wonderful game. That I had become attached to someone whose username I didn’t know until I had completed the game (when you complete the a run of the game, a list of all the other travelers you meet will appear, along with their in-game symbol) left me feeling both sad and elated that a game had managed to worm its way into my heart in such a short amount of time.
The simplicity of it, in terms of design, aesthetics, and interaction, is what thrills and excites and holds onto you. You should take this Journey.
Addendum: As I went about to grab a few photos for the post, I ran into another player, likewise unwilling to “talk” until things got a little hairy, and suddenly the player was pretty chatty. Don’t trust all travelers, I guess?
Addendum II: So it looks like the symbol changes from playthrough to playthrough. Sigh.