Journey demonstrates that games are indeed an art form
Thatgamecompany's latest release, Journey, like its previous releases, Flower and Flow, is quite the unique experience. Traditional game mechanics are tossed out of the window, there is no ‘game over' screen, no ‘dying', no health bar, and the options menu only allows you to invert the X and Y axes of your controller. Yet, Journey is, indeed, a game, but it is also art; a surreal, yet pure form of artistic expression that is somehow interactive.
Journey, as its name suggests, is exactly that. Playing as a robed figure, the player, isn't given much to go on, having been left in the middle of a desert without a map. There's a mountain in the distance, the only logical destination. The player uses the controller (clearly, thatgamecompany's creative vision is still constrained by traditional control methods) to move around, jump (once certain pieces of cloth are collected) and pretty much be on their way towards the mountain. The mountain is merely an indication of Journey's gameplay philosophy — the game uses visual cues to direct the player, and combined with intuitive design, make Journey's experience feel utterly seamless. As a result, there's no learning curve to speak of and the player's learning process is as organic as any. It banks on the player's investment in Journey as a game, but doesn't make the player think so much as to make the experience less enjoyable. It's amazing how balanced Journey is as an interactive experience, and how well it manages to maintain this balance of ‘game' and ‘experience' over the course of its brief length.
There's no doubt that your robed figure's journey is personal. It is made mysterious and emotional by breathtaking visual design that is wonderfully complemented by Austin Wintory's incredible music score. And yet, it is made to feel like a piece in a larger puzzle through an interesting online system that sees you encounter other players on their own journeys. There's no room for text or voice chat, with the only mode of communication with these other strange robed figures being full control of your character and a wordless shout that is also a random musical note. The uniqueness of the online experience is unquestionable, with Journey maintaining a sense of sparseness by not overpopulating its beautiful landscapes with players (you're only likely to run into a couple of players at one point of time).
With games attempting to move closer to Hollywood in terms of cinematic presentation, Journey feels like a breath of fresh air. It isn't cinematic in the traditional sense, but it does feel like you're in an Oscar-nominated animated feature for extended periods of time. Its voiceless tale, however emotional, doesn't feel self indulgent or pretentious at any point of time, and this is quite the achievement. But this experience comes at a cost — one of brevity. Journey lasts around a couple of hours, and while one could argue that there is infinite replayability, subsequent journeys will probably not evoke the same emotions as the first one. The game is also priced interestingly; as much as a film on DVD or a downloadable game. And yet, Journey's universal appeal, incredible audiovisual design and unique game mechanics make an excellent case for games to be regarded as an art form. Journey is available as a downloadable title on the Playstation Store.
Keywords: video games