Journey Collector’s Edition Review For PlayStation 3
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 3.
This may come as a surprise to some of you, but not all gamers want high-octane thrills and spills, explosions every fifteen seconds, and a constant race to save the world for their gaming experiences. Some gamers want to use their sessions, however brief, as a chance to relax, unwind, and be transported to a brand new world, where combat and violence aren’t the answer to every question. At times like this, games such as Journey or Flower come into their own. Both of these games rest between being a ‘game’ and being an ‘experience’, and can’t really be categorised in any particular genre. Packaged alongside these two titles in the Journey Collector’s Edition comes fl0w and three games created during developer Thatgamecompany’s regular 24-hour Game Jams, namely Gravediggers, Duke War!! and Nostril Shot. While these latter four titles are really too minimal to be included within the review as a whole, they will be briefly addressed below so you can get an idea of what comes in the whole package.
Obviously, the main title within this package (it is the Journey Collector’s Edition, after all) is Journey. Released earlier in 2012 on PSN, Journey sees players taking on the role of a nameless, sexless, ageless protagonist, with no set goal aside from traveling ever onwards towards a distant mountain which has a beam of light emerging from the top. To do this, players must traverse a variety of landscapes, initially starting in a desert, then moving through what looks like an underwater section, and finally on to the mountain itself, which is snow-covered and home to some truly brutal winds. Journey prefers to task the player with exploration rather than combat, and whilst the player’s avatar can be injured by a number of Guardians that patrol the later levels, they cannot fight back, and the only damage the players will suffer is to their avatar’s Scarf, which allows them to glide for short distances.
Gliding is the only real ability presented to you throughout the course of Journey and, truth be told, it’s all that you really need. There aren’t any big puzzles throughout the game (aside from a number of hidden icons which can lengthen the avatar’s Scarf), allowing you to glide for longer distances. Throughout the entire experience the presentation of the game’s mechanics is kept to a minimum, to the extent that there is no Menu presented to the player upon starting up Journey, merely a prompt to begin a new game. This keeps your attention firmly locked onto your avatar and its surrounding environments, and really helps to draw you into the world of the game. This immersion is further aided by some stirring orchestral music, which manages to strike a fine balance between soaring and almost non-existence, depending on the location of the player. Even the sound design of the few enemies you do encounter is well done, with the cries of the flying Guardians being particularly bone-chilling and immediately informing the player that, even if you could, these are not beings that you would want to mess with.
Visually, Journey is one of the more impressive(originally released on) PSN titles available, with the shifting sands of the desert sections and the cold, harsh winds as you climb the mountain adding a lot of subtle detail to the scenes. The brief cutscenes that break up the areas are minimal and may remind the player of early civilization artworks. The creation myth they tell could easily be imagined as a true archaeological find. These cutscenes serve Journey well and increase the sense of wonder that you’ll experience while playing through, a sense which is only heightened when you happen to stumble across a fellow player of the game who has the same goal as you.
Journey doesn’t present the player with any information about their fellow travellers, and it’s left up to the your discretion as to whether you will travel alongside this new companion, or continue to journey on by yourself. It’s subtle, but the lack of feeling forced into helping someone makes it all the more rewarding when you do see the other player waiting for you atop the crest of a sand dune, or when you point out a hidden area to a player that wasn’t aware of it beforehand.
Flower, on the other hand, is a truly single-player experience, although the game is no less entertaining because of it. There are brief cutscenes before the start of each level, but these are largely open to interpretation, as is much of the rest of the game, perhaps even more so than Journey. In Flower, players start as a single petal from a lonely flower in the middle of a grey meadow, and by controlling the wind using the Sixaxis functionality of the controller, they float towards other flowers, picking up more and more petals as they go. Once an entire field’s worth of flowers has been visited, a sharp burst of colour fills the area, almost as if the player’s actions have brought the region back to life.
Flower is perhaps the more relaxing of the two main entrants in this collection, as its bright colours, soothing music (especially in the earlier levels), and lack of any real button input allows the player to almost become one with the wind. Eventually you forget that you’re holding the controller and any movement of the controller is forgotten by your conscious mind. Perhaps the closest that Flower can be approximated to any other genre is either a flight simulator or racer, as once you get used to the controls for handling the nuances of the wind, you can travel very quickly. When this is combined with the musical notes that are triggered as you brush each flower, it almost creates a melody of its own – above and beyond what is already presented to the player within the background music.
There are a number of levels within Flower, each of a fairly sizeable length, but this is the type of game that is easily replayable, even if it’s just for a level or two of quick relaxation. In terms of Journey, you almost want to play the game through from beginning to end each time, as it feels slightly like you’re cheating if you take a break halfway through. As the game is only a couple of hours long, it’s perfectly feasible to complete a playthrough in one afternoon, although it’s doubtful that you will feel cheated once you reach the end of the game, considering how well the pacing is handled throughout.
The other games within the package, namely fl0w, Gravediggers, Duke War!! and Nostril Shot are certainly note-worthy aspects of the compilation, as they provide the player with an interesting backdrop into Thatgamecompany’s history. fl0w almost takes on the guise of an evolutionary simulator, as players use the Sixaxis to guide an initially small creature amongst an underwater environment, feeding on smaller entities and avoiding larger ones which are seeking to eat you. The other three entries take on the guise of a platformer/action title, proto-RTS and 2D wave-shooter respectively, although they serve more as items of curiosity than games that you will spend hours with.
Even the package itself is catered to those interested in either game design or the company itself, as where an instruction manual usually sits (or at least they used to sit), there is a booklet that introduces the design team behind the games and gives a short brief of each of the 24hr Game Jam entries. Through this booklet you can truly see the passion and devotion Thatgamecompany has for their projects, and frankly, I would be delighted to see this included with many more game releases.
Considering how artfully these games have been put together, there are unfortunately a couple instances of nitpicking that need to be addressed to objectively analyse the value of this collection. Journey, although close to perfection, does have some camera issues, usually related to the camera getting snagged on certain pieces of scenery, or not quite lining up properly to be able to see your avatar clearly enough. The issues with Flower and fl0w are almost identical to each other and stem from the unresponsiveness of the Sixaxis controller. Whilst most of the time the controls work fine, there are instances where the controller either doesn’t, or can’t, do what you want as well as if you were using the standard analogue stick controls. None of these problems are enough to cause huge amounts of frustration, but they are present.
The Journey Collector’s Edition is one of the more intriguing releases of 2012, seeing as it serves not just as a vehicle to get previously online-only games into the hands of the more physically-inclined gamers, but also as a worthwhile package even for those who already own the games. The fact that it presents a background of Thatgamecompany, and the idea that you can track a development team’s history through from their first release to their most recent one is novel, and one that would be welcome as the gaming industry grows. This is the closest we’ve come to having a packaged release that resembles a Special Edition DVD, with extras and behind the scenes featurettes, and I’m sure that I wouldn’t be the only gamer that would be pleased to see more information on where our products come from. Thankfully, the games inside the package more than deserve the treatment they’ve received here, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see Journey high up on some Game of the Year lists over the next month or so.
The Journey Collector’s Edition scores 4.75 out of 5.
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