Does the name Thatgamecompany mean anything to you? What about the game Flower? While Thatgamecompany create rather niche games, and they are far from the mainstream, there’s still a good chance you’ve heard of them. Founders Jenova Chen and Kellee Santiago have created a bit of buzz in the games industry.
Thatgamecompany doesn’t just make games; its goal is to make games that evoke emotions in the people that play them. Chen and Santiago are part of the so-called "Art Games” movement. Each of their games have themes and support central ideas.
Their body of work has covered most natural landscapes; flOw with the ocean, Cloud with the sky, and Flower with fields. Where should their next game take them? Why, the desert of course; and so we have Journey.
Now if you’ve played Flower before, you will have a good understanding of what Journey is like, as it resembles its predecessor rather closely. In Flower you had to control the wind, sweeping across hills, and picking up petals along the way.
In Journey you play as a little robed figure. Although you can fly temporarily when you pick up enough floating fabric, for the most part your figure is quite slow with you trudging along the sand dunes. But once you make it to the top of a tall dune you can gently slide your way down, or you can catch a wave of sand blown by the wind. 'Gently' is the perfect word to describe the character in Journey. Every action you take is slow, delicate, and deliberate.
The world of Journey does appear quite open, but like Flower, your path is pre-determined, and you will usually be able to see your next objective not too far away. The ultimate goal of Journey is to make it across the barren landscape to a tall mountain and beacon of light in the distance. When playing the game, however, you are told nothing, and you are given very little instruction. So it’s a matter of discovery and experimentation. A good thing the game looks so beautiful, as the environment will take up the majority of your focus. The landscape appears to stretch out forever in all directions, and the sand flows under your feet as you walk through it.
The landscape isn’t entirely barren, however; there are remnants of old ruined structures still standing in the sand. At these structures you often need to collect the surrounding floating fabric to fly and reach certain areas. To proceed, you may also need to colour in the twisting scarf-like fabric by emitting a musical tone, or by brushing past ancient relics to activate them. The Beta hasn’t shown anything too taxing; in fact, for a game that doesn’t hold your hand it’s actually very easy to play – a necessary prerequisite for thatgamecompany’s mission to reach wider audiences.
You can play the entire thing solo, but we do need to touch on the much-discussed multiplayer. Unfortunately I did not manage to bump into a single player on any of my attempts to make contact. Not that I have any direct influence over that. Journey was supposed to be rather unique in that from the get-go you are connected online when you play. There are no lobbies and you can’t invite friends in the menu. In fact, there’s no menu to begin with. While playing you are supposed to be able to meet other players in the same area as you, and then the both of you would carry on and work together to complete the next objective. All without voice chat too, your only means of communication is through movement, or a shrill musical tone you can emit at varying speeds. And your new-found friend isn’t even named; they are a total stranger that you can choose to team up with or abandon at any point. It’s an interesting take on co-op I wish I could experience first-hand.
Journey is a slow-paced, meditative experience. In my short taste of the game I’m still not sure if what I experienced was "fun” per se. Even Flower could be fun at times, but I’ve yet to discover the same feeling here. I think the anticipation and the mystery built themselves to such a height that this Beta couldn’t possibly have met those expectations. What I experienced was certainly interesting, but we’ll find out for sure when the full game releases later this year.