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Odofakyodo 06-09-2012 08:32 PM

Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion
 
Journey Review

Easy to Learn, Easy to Master

High – The brief moment of (unmerited) fear when first encountering an enemy.
Low – Realizing just how linear and scripted the game is.
WTF – Can I have those two hours of my life back?

After finishing Flower—the previous product from ThatGameCompany—I praised its audio-visual splendor but questioned its lack of meaningful choices. The company's latest venture, Journey, is much like its predecessor, but it is also minimalist to a fault. A certain degree of minimalism is good if it removes bloat and reduces a game to its fundamentals, giving it focus and increasing accessibility. In Journey, though, ThatGameCompany goes too far, stripping the product of the soul of what a game is. I found it exacerbating that a game whose name and imagery evoke exotic locales, epic hardships, and personal enlightenment, offers so little in the way of player agency.

As its name suggests, the goal of Journey is to travel from one location to another. At its mechanical core, then, the game is a level-based platformer. The player uses the left analog stick to guide a red-robed avatar across a seemingly vast expanse of desert and through the ruins of an ancient civilization. The ultimate goal, glimpsed throughout the game, is a shining light that beckons from the top of a mountain.

From the outset, I felt an invisible hand guiding me along a preset path. If I attempted to walk in any direction other than toward the next landmark on the horizon, the wind pushed me roughly back from whence I came. If I tried to fall off a side ledge or down a water shaft, there was always a safety net that funneled me back to the main path with no resistance.

The player has the ability to fly for a limited time by storing energy in her scarf, which acts as a power meter. By finding glowing runes scattered around different areas, she can increase the scarf's length, and hence the amount of air time possible. At certain points she will encounter enemies that can rip the end off of the scarf with a successful attack, thereby reducing total air time. If online, the player may join with a fellow traveler. One companion can tap a button to sing a short note that fills up the other's scarf when she is near, and the other can return the favor.

On paper these mechanics sound intriguing, but in practice they are extremely bare bones and have little to no effect on Journey's difficulty. At one point I intentionally allowed my scarf to be reduced to a stub, but I never felt as though that inhibited me in any way. I realized that my actions did not matter much to the outcome of the game, and as a result I was not compelled to seek out power-ups or to bother waiting around for other players.

If the depth of a game is measured by the distance between its best and worst players, then Journey is one of the shallowest games ever made. Every player can make steady progress and complete the game in roughly the same amount of time. There is precious little skill involved and virtually no strategy to employ. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that you can complete the game by simply holding forward on the left analog stick. This is the exact opposite of how the game is advertised on its web site ("your passage will not be an easy one"). Games, by definition, must have a goal or win condition. If a game is so easy that it is impossible to lose, then winning quickly loses its meaning.

Journey has received much praise and acclaim, but I failed to see anything innovative about it. It is a linear, scripted cinematic experience that costs $15 and lasts about 2 hours. If that sounds more like a movie than a game to you, I don't think you'll find much consolation in the fact that you have to hold down the play button to make it proceed. The best I can say is that—like Flower—it is visually pleasing and the narrative is abstract enough for each player to impart her own personal interpretation. However, there are far more engaging and interesting platformers out there with substantially more content (starting with the original Super Mario Brothers), and there are far better opportunities for online camaraderie, where one can build stronger and longer-lasting relationships with real people (for example, World of Warcraft).

Some may think that I am being overly harsh; that Journey is "an experience, not a game"; that I am "missing the point"; or that I am "not judging it by its own merits" (whatever that means). My response is the following: How can an experience emotionally affect me if I can cruise through it on auto-pilot? How do my actions matter when I know they are being guided by the invisible strings of a puppeteer? How can I feel any sense of purpose with so little demanded of me? How can I form meaningful bonds with other people if we do not actually need each other to progress? These are serious and legitimate questions that need to be answered if one expects to find significant merit in Journey.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Disclosures: This game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 2 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode (completed 1 time).

RandomRob 06-09-2012 10:13 PM

Re: Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion
 
Great questions. Love this review.

(I echoed these sentiments in a podcast suggestion post regarding what exactly 'adult games' are- because it seems like Thatgamecompany has fallen into a rut, and aren't making good on their niche hype. )

Pedro 06-10-2012 07:38 AM

Re: Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion
 
Superb. Looks like you put a lot of work into this. If anything, it is a little overwritten compared to most GC content - but that is not a complaint or criticism as such.

Quote:

If the depth of a game is measured by the distance between its best and worst players, then Journey is one of the shallowest games ever made.
I don't know how true that is, or if it's a valid yardstick, but it made me laugh out loud.

Really good work, 5 stars.

Li-Ion 06-12-2012 07:05 AM

Re: Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Odofakyodo (Post 201363)
How can an experience emotionally affect me if I can cruise through it on auto-pilot?

The same way visiting an art gallery can emotionally affect you. But you can choose to just walk straight to the exit.

Quote:

How do my actions matter when I know they are being guided by the invisible strings of a puppeteer?
You just described 90% of first person shooters that came out within the last year. Not only restricted to FPS, of course. When I walk through World of Warcraft none of my actions matter. Every enemy respawns after a while. I have no decision in what happens, every quest is strictly linear.

Quote:

How can I feel any sense of purpose with so little demanded of me?
look:
http://img545.imageshack.us/img545/7996/redcg.jpg

Not Vermeer, for sure, but I like it and didn't find it demanding to paint. Was there any purpose to it? No, the whole point of playing games or painting images is to be devoid of purpose. It's my leisure time when I unwind my brain from demanding tasks during the day.

Quote:

How can I form meaningful bonds with other people if we do not actually need each other to progress?
You never played World of Warcraft I assume? In WoW I never "needed" anyone. I was never interested in all those shiny epic items (I was part of a raid for a while but that period of playing WoW was also the reason for me to stop, because I stopped enjoying WoW). WoW (like Journey) is (was) for me about discovery and seeing something I haven't seen (in this form) before. Journey had some genuinely beautiful moments I don't want to miss. And every Journey is more fun with company. I don't need friends to visit Madrid for example, but it's more fun with them.

edit:
Haven't rated the review yet, but I think you reviewed Journey for what it is not, rather than for what it is. It's like reviewing Civilization and giving it a 3/10 because it's not a fast paced action game.

Wiggly Squid 06-12-2012 12:16 PM

Re: Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion
 
Excellent review.

Btw Li-Ion, I don't think he's criticizing Journey for not being a certain type of game. He's criticizing it for not really being a game at all. I haven't played Journey but from all the other (even positive) reviews on the web it sounds more like a movie or interactive screensaver that a game.

"It is a linear, scripted cinematic experience that costs $15 and lasts about 2 hours. If that sounds more like a movie than a game to you, I don't think you'll find much consolation in the fact that you have to hold down the play button to make it proceed."

This made me LOL.

RandomRob 06-12-2012 01:59 PM

Re: Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion
 
agreed Squid, I think Odo is pointing out that the interface and theme of the game are not compelling enough in themselves to warrant praise.

Flower, for example, seemed to portray a progression away from nature, then let you use the Flowers to blast apart the decaying buildings at the end... silly, but definitely cathartic, and felt like it had some meaning.

Li-Ion 06-12-2012 02:15 PM

Re: Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion
 
I didn't feel anything with Flower. I was only bored to tears.

@Squid: it's criticising the non-existant difficulty and how the first Super Mario Bros. is a better platformer. If it's not a game, why review it like one?

RandomRob 06-12-2012 07:23 PM

Re: Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion
 
because it shouldn't get a pass for not being a game...?

Odofakyodo 06-12-2012 08:21 PM

Re: Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion
 
Hi Li-Ion,

Thanks for the response to the questions. I'll address your answers individually.

Quote:

Originally Posted by Li-Ion (Post 201411)
The same way visiting an art gallery can emotionally affect you. But you can choose to just walk straight to the exit.

I think both Flower and Journey succeeded more as a piece of traditional art (where events are interpreted) than a game (where events can also be configured). I believe the latter is a superior art form that has more potential to touch people in personal, meaningful ways.
Quote:

Originally Posted by Li-Ion (Post 201411)
You just described 90% of first person shooters that came out within the last year. Not only restricted to FPS, of course. When I walk through World of Warcraft none of my actions matter. Every enemy respawns after a while. I have no decision in what happens, every quest is strictly linear.

I don’t really play FPS that much, but I respect them as games because they require skill and because of the multiplayer. I can see why they capture the attention of so many people.

I am not saying WoW is the be-all-end-all by any means, but I think you are looking at WoW in too limited a scope. Yes, each quest line is linear, but from a macro perspective it isn’t. I can choose to do one quest over another. I can choose to go into one zone over another. On the way to one destination I can pass many interesting locations, and I can stop off at a new town or see what’s in that cave over there. I can abandon my original quest if I want to. I once swam around an entire continent just to see what there was to see. And there is always the threat that a player in the other faction could attack me. The world is at my fingertips. That is real exploring.

In later versions of WoW, they introduced the concept of phasing which changes the world around you as you complete quests. This permanent changing gives a better sense of player agency.
Quote:

Originally Posted by Li-Ion (Post 201411)
Not Vermeer, for sure, but I like it and didn't find it demanding to paint. Was there any purpose to it? No, the whole point of playing games or painting images is to be devoid of purpose. It's my leisure time when I unwind my brain from demanding tasks during the day.

I don’t agree that the whole point of playing video games is to be devoid of purpose. There is a place for passivity and relaxation, but there needs to be a purpose to achieve the highest levels of happiness. “Leisure time” doesn’t necessarily mean passive or not demanding. It is time where you are not forced or compelled to do something – i.e. free time. I believe the most rewarding things in life demand something from us. They require our full attention and skills to complete a goal. One will never be fully happy or satisfied otherwise.
Quote:

Originally Posted by Li-Ion (Post 201411)
You never played World of Warcraft I assume? In WoW I never "needed" anyone. I was never interested in all those shiny epic items (I was part of a raid for a while but that period of playing WoW was also the reason for me to stop, because I stopped enjoying WoW). WoW (like Journey) is (was) for me about discovery and seeing something I haven't seen (in this form) before. Journey had some genuinely beautiful moments I don't want to miss. And every Journey is more fun with company. I don't need friends to visit Madrid for example, but it's more fun with them.

As to WoW, yes, I have played it. Getting help will make a huge difference in the difficulty and gameplay of normal questing and leveling, but you are right that you don’t “need” anyone necessarily for that stuff. For raids and dungeons you do need other people. The shared goals and dependency on other players in WoW, combined with the complex party interaction and communication system -- you can talk to people! imaging that! -- make its potential for bonding light years ahead of where Journey is. (Side note: I played FFXI for many many years and that required grouping up for almost everything, even standard leveling up. I found WoW’s leveling up boring in comparison, though WoW does a lot of things better, of course. Especially with regard to UI and streamlining).

Judging Journey on being a game is entirely appropriate because that is how it is advertised on its web site. Not to mention it was create by ThatGAMEcompany (as opposed to ThatMOVIEcompany or some other name). In a game there is a point or a purpose to the player participating. In a game the player should be more than a movie projector operator. A game should offer more than simply “seeing pretty sights”. Journey is also advertised as difficult, which it is absolutely not. And it is advertised as offering “exploration”, which it technically does but in a very linear way. I can’t choose where to go.

I think the Madrid comparison is apples to oranges for multiple reasons. First, when visiting Madrid there are countless things for you to do and see, in any way or order you want (time and money permitting, of course). Not so with Journey. Second, in Journey you aren’t spending time with “friends”, you are spending time with total strangers. Not many people would go tour a city with a total stranger. It would be more fun with a friend. Third, in real life Madrid your opportunities for interaction are infinitely more complex than anything found in Journey. You can actually talk to people about what you are looking at. Discuss art, world events, food, whatever. You can get drunk, make love, or even kill. Not to belabor WoW, but at least in WoW you can get drunk and kill. And real people have actually met through WoW and gotten married. I doubt anyone will ever do that through Journey.

Li-Ion 06-13-2012 06:28 AM

Re: Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion
 
Quote:

Originally Posted by Odofakyodo (Post 201426)
I think both Flower and Journey succeeded more as a piece of traditional art (where events are interpreted) than a game (where events can also be configured). I believe the latter is a superior art form that has more potential to touch people in personal, meaningful ways.

I agree with the first part. Not with the second, though. I don't think that any form of art is superior, it's all down to preference.
Quote:

I don’t really play FPS that much, but I respect them as games because they require skill and because of the multiplayer.
In multiplayer, yes. But singleplayer is an entirely different beast and my main criticism with singleplayer campaigns of fps is the over-reliance on scripted, linear corridors. Watching a movie while watching popcorn offers roughly the same level of interactivity. Compared to that Journey isn't all that bad. And a new Call of Duty costs 60$ of which I'd only play 6 hours of singleplayer campaign. Journey costs 15$ for 2 hours. CoD still more expensive ;)

Quote:

I am not saying WoW is the be-all-end-all by any means, but I think you are looking at WoW in too limited a scope.
I just took it as an example for perceived restriction. Of course, WoW is a massive game with 4 huge continents to explore and discover. Not the same ballpark as Jouney with some desert to travel through.

Quote:

I can choose to do one quest over another. I can choose to go into one zone over another.
But how much impact does that really have? Yes, I can choose to ignore a certain quest but then I have to kill more random mobs to get the xp 'lost'. If I do or not do a quest doesn't change the world (of Warcraft). Yes I can go into a different zone but only if my level is high enough. It's not possible to walk as level 1 character from one side of Azeroth to the other without dying about 5 million times.

The phasing since Wrath of the Lich King also only served to alienate me further from the game. Yes, my actions seemed to make impact but seeing my friends phase in and out at the edges of a phasing zone, because they are not at the same step of a quest kinda broke the illusion for me.

Quote:

I don’t agree that the whole point of playing video games is to be devoid of purpose.
That's not what I meant. What I meant is different people play for different reasons. To stay with the WoW-example: I played for exploration and discovery. For wearing stupid pirate-hats and other nonsense. Some of my friends played for the quests (I stopped reading quest-text after level 5 or so), others play mostly for raids and consider all this running around to get to max level a nuisance, because they are interested in the tactical multi-stage boss battles WoW has to offer.

And coming back to Journey: reading this gave me the idea that you had a preconceived notion how Journey should be and were disappointed that it didn't turn out to be the game you expected. Or much of a game at all.

Quote:

“Leisure time” doesn’t necessarily mean passive or not demanding.
Of course not. My favourite game is Dark Souls, one of my favourite books is Crime and Punishment ;)
But there are times when playing something that doesn't need much input but still feels interactive is nice. Like playing a track of DJ Hero on easy after a night out drinking.

Quote:

Not to mention it was create by ThatGAMEcompany (as opposed to ThatMOVIEcompany or some other name).
hahaha good point.

Quote:

Journey is also advertised as difficult, which it is absolutely not. And it is advertised as offering “exploration”, which it technically does but in a very linear way. I can’t choose where to go.
I'm just playing Dragon's Dogma and even though I ran into some restrictions already, I have to say it's much more a journey and about a journey than Journey will ever be.

Quote:

Not to belabor WoW, but at least in WoW you can get drunk and kill.
Two of my favourite things in WoW right there!

I still not agree with everything you say but I can see now how you got to your conclusions. And it's very well written. 5 Stars.


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