It’s been more than a year since Flower released on PSN. Flower was our runner up for downloadable title of the year, and an all-around incredible, artistic, and enjoyable experience. Creator Jenova Chen and his nine man team (they’ve added two since Flower) thatgamecompany has finally revealed their new project, Journey, and it manages to simultaneously both be as innovative as flower while completely different.
Mr. Chen was clear that thatgamecompany’s philosophy of AAA (abstract, artistic, and accessible) once again shaped their game design. Journey is built around a few key themes. One of these was a sense of wonder and awe, and the other was a sense of small. To clarify the bit about a “sense of small” Mr. Chen explained he had gotten the idea for this game upon meeting a space shuttle pilot, who explained every scientist who had been to the moon with him had come back deeply religious, due to the sense of smallness they got from seeing everything they knew, their entire existence, as a tiny marble in space.
Chen also sought to reimagine multiplayer. He said most multiplayer empowers players. It gives players guns and teams and voice chat and sends them against hordes of enemies weaker than themselves. He instead built Journey around the theme of two small people meeting and connecting in a large world without vocal communication. Journey is designed to be always played online, and while playing online you have the chance to encounter another person and continue your journey with them, or leave them be and continue it on your own.
So with these ideals in mind, Journey was booted up, and we got to see it played for the first time. Journey begins with you, waking up in a desert with nothing around and no idea why you are there. There is a large mountain in the distance with a bright light from the top, guiding you towards your goal. As you make your way towards the mountain you will cross into desolate and mysterious environments. The main one shown in the demo was a cliff with a broken old bridge keeping you from reaching the top.
Immediately upon entering the area, Chen began exploring. He activated various different machines and equipment as he did so, all buried and under disrepair. The sand moved slowly across the area in waves. He could actually hop on and ride the sand wave to travel quickly around the area. Everything was gorgeous and fit with the theme of flowing. The sand flowed, the robe-like clothes on the character flowed, and bits of cloth around the area flowed. As the character traveled through the sand he pushed the sand around and left a distinct trail. Music was gorgeous instrumental tracks, hauntingly appropriate for the dystopian and alien environment.
The game itself is played only with the joystick and two buttons. The left joystick moves your character, and the two buttons are used for jumping and singing (which allows you to resonate with cloth). The camera is, interestingly, controlled with the sixaxis motion controls rather than the right joystick. In the world you will always move towards your goal, the giant mountain in the distance. To cross the terrain you’ll need to solve some puzzles, but the game doesn’t guide you through them. Exploration is key, and wandering your environment will allow you to activated hidden switches and discover secret areas, which may reveal more of the story. If you gather enough cloth you can use it to fly for short periods of time as well.
It’s pretty hard to really describe what makes Journey so special. Even in a bright breakout room with 30 other members of the press, I was enthralled and drawn completely into the demo in front of me. The feeling of unique style and grace was even more intense than in Flower for me, and I honestly can’t wait to see more of what will be done with the game. Chen says the current goal is to launch it sometime next year, and I really wish it wasn’t so far off. This is an absolutely impressive and unexpected treat for me at E3 this year, and among the most interesting games of the entire show.