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Game Review: Journey

When I first began writing this review, I was originally going to stick with my usual method, breaking the various components of the game down into their strengths & weaknesses & assigning a score to each.  However, after finally having the chance to really play Journey & soak in the experience, I feel that doing so would be a disservice to the game.  The game is excellent in all areas, from the stunning visuals, stirring music & simple gameplay.  However, after giving it much though, I feel that breaking the game apart wouldn’t convey the impact Journey had on me.

Journey is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played.

Journey-Screen-OneAnd that is not merely a statement about the aesthetic aspects of it.  Anyone who’s seen the game could attest to that.  Visually, it’s stunning.  While not on par with the ultra-realistic graphics developers seem to be obsessed with nowadays, the game has a very appealing style.  The designs of the characters & environments are simple & elegant.  I think, for me, the biggest impact comes from the lighting, colors & physics.  The colors chosen for the environments are stark & striking, highlighted by stellar light direction.  I love the way the light makes the sand look, giving it this shining, almost liquid appearance.  The way the Travelers’ robes move, the scarf tangling & swirling behind, kicking up sand & snow… it makes everything feel warm & personable.

The music is similarly stunning.  It always fits the mood perfectly.  Winds flutter like butterflies mimicking your excitement as you slid down a golden river or sand.  Strings swell dramatically before slowing into a somber note.  It’s beautiful.  And clearly I wasn’t the only one who thought so, as you can purchase the soundtrack separately.

But the presentation is just that.  Presentation.  Important though it may be, it’s merely the decoration.  The gilding on a monument, if you will.  It’s the story that is, at its heart, the focus of the game.  Everything else exists to enhance the story thatgamecompany wanted to tell.

And on the surface, it’s a serviceable enough story.  The Traveler is on a journey to the mountain, uncovering the past of their destroyed culture along the way through murals & strange encounters with a white being.  We learn of how everything was peaceful until something severed among the people, & they lost their powers of magical cloth.  As with most civilizations, this led to civil war between them, until the culture was destroyed & only ruins remain, buried under centuries of sand.  The themes are almost metaphysical, as in the end it’s interpretable as to how the Traveler’s journey ends.  It hints are ideas of rebirth & almost a sort of collective unconscious.

All these traits on the surface make for an enjoyable gaming experience.  But it wasn’t until I played through the game a second time that I truly understood what thatgamecompany was getting at.

It’s not the story, the destination, or even the goal that matters — it’s the journey.

Now that may seem like a no-brainer as that’s the game’s very title.  But it wasn’t until I had experienced the journey a second time that I realized every aspect of the game was intended to facilitate this idea.  Every trip to the summit, while following the same path, plays out different because of the human element.

Let me describe my experiences to illustrate the point I’m trying to make:

6186985162_abec2a04f0_o_19494.nphd_My first playthrough, I met a companion in the desert & we traveled the road together.  I could tell by the fancier embroidery on their robe than mine that they’d made the journey before, & they helped guide me along the way.  We worked together to overcome the obstacles.  During the ascent to the summit, they led the way while I made sure to keep the cold at bay.  I was happy to see them on the other side, & we walked into the light together, with them leading the way.

My second playthrough, I was more interested in finding things I’d missed the first time around, so I mostly ignored those I met in the desert.  Until I met a first-time traveler (again, I could tell by the embroidery), & I decided to help them through the journey.  Again, we worked together as I tried to show them where some of the more hidden things were even as I searched for them myself.  As we began our ascent up the mountain, things went well… until they abandoned me, ignoring my prods to get back to cover, resulting in me getting attacked.  So after they leaf me for dead, I resolutely carried on without them & stalwartly ignored the people I met on the other side, walking into the light on my own.

My third playthrough I met my traveling companion as an equal (both in white robes) & we actually communicated with each other.  Strangely, it wasn’t too hard to “talk” because our actions suggested what we wanted to do.  For example, when I noticed they didn’t unlock all the ribbons on rebuild the bridge in the desert before trying to cross, I knew they were after the Threshold trophy, so we worked together.  After a few failed attempts, we timed our jumps so that our presence with each other in the air renewed our scarfs until we crossed the gap without the ribbons.  This trend continued as we chirped for attention, calling the other to follow to the next hidden thing the other was missing.  We didn’t abandon each other in our struggles, but waited & encouraged.  I felt scared for my friend when we got attacked by the guardians on the summit from underground.  In the end, we walked into the light side-by-side.

Each journey through Journey is its own story.  Each experience facilitates different interactions with companions & gives each playthrough a different feel.  Your actions dictate your feelings towards your companion(s).  I didn’t even know who these people were until the very end, yet I felt attached to some of them, while other were just in the background & some I loathed.  Thatgamecompany achieved this all without a single piece of dialogue, spoken or written.  It is all through the presentation & letting players mold the experience.

That is why I call this game brilliant.  It is a masterpiece.  A work of art that you play.  Every person who calls themself a gamer should play Journey.  If you don’t own a PS3 or 4, find someone who does.  In fact, I think every person should play this game, & experience the journey themselves.

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– GamerDame

Title: Journey
Console: PS3 & PS4
Rating: E
Developer: thatgamecompany
Publisher: Sony
Release Date: March 13, 2012

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Filed under 5, Adventure, PS3, PS4, Reviews

Game Review: The Path

In what is probably the quickest turnaround from a First Impressions to a Review, I finished The Path this evening.  I think it’s unfair to classify the game as a “horror” game, even if the developers call it that.  The Path didn’t strike me so much as a horror game as maybe a psychological one.  There wasn’t anything that struck me as scary in the traditional sense.  However, there are plenty of moments that I would call creepy, unsettling or disturbing.  But the important question remains: is it a good game?

Looks cheerful, don’t it?

I could probably write a thesis about the plot behind The Path, but I’ll keep things simple (plus I plan to write an analysis later).  The Path is a re-imagining of the older versions of Little Red Riding Hood.  You play as one of six sisters who is tasked by her mother to take a basket to her sick grandmother.  As the road turns into a gravel path, you’re given your only objective: Go to Grandma’s house & stay on the path.  Should you choose to obey this, you arrive at grandma’s in just a few minutes, safe & sound… & with a big “Failure” on your ending screen.  That’s right.  If you obey the game, you lose.  The only way to “win” is by disobeying the game & exploring the surrounding forest.  Each sister has her own interactions & responses to the things you find in the woods, as well as encountering her own version of the Wolf.  After finding the Wolf, you’re returned to grandma’s house, which has now changed… & not for the better.

Meet the Red Sisters

Gameplay is pretty simple.  You can walk, run & interact with objects.  Collecting items & interacting with specific objects will unlock more rooms in the house for you to explore.  Occasionally you’ll encounter a strange girl in white who will lead you to interesting items or try to guide you back to the path (once you lose sight of the path this is the only way back to it).  You’re main goal is to find the wolf, but you can explore the area as much as you like.  The forest itself is infinite in the sense that it never ends, but it actually just repeats continuously.  Meaning if you keep running straight you’ll eventually come back to where you started.

Narrative: The Path is a very artsy game, & by that I mean it’s more of an interactive story than an actual game.  The story (or the path) is the main point of the game.  However, not a lot is directly spelled out.  The developers encourage the player to interpret the game as they see fit.  That being said, you probably shouldn’t take what happens as being literal.  Even the wolves are just manifestations of obstacles on the path to growing up.  To make the most out of the game, you really have to think about what’s going on.  Because of this, the story won’t sit well with everyone.  The story certainly won’t appeal to those who like things spelled out in black & white.  However, just the fact that the game encourages you to think for yourself should be commended, & it works rather well.  You’re given just enough information to tease you with an answer.  There’s no spoken dialogue, even with the wolves, but if you pay attention the game gives you plenty of subtle clues.  That being said, there were a few moments that I really had to make a leap for an interpretation.  Score: 4

The Wolves aren’t always what you’d expect

Mechanics: Simple but it works.  The Path is a “game” by the barest of definitions.  The controls are functional but nothing groundbreaking.  I did have a few issues, though.  One is that when you run, the camera zooms out into chase mode, which makes it hard to see where you’re going.  I’m sure this was intentional, as to discourage people from running around all the time.  Also, the layout of the forest seems to be random for each girl, so it’s impossible know where each special area is.  You do get to see your path every 100 meters, but it’s still hard to tell where you’ve been, & you’ll end up running into the same areas.  Also, when you enter the special areas, you can only walk slowly through them, so there’s no way to quickly leave some place you’ve already been.  On the positive, I like that when you enter the house everything goes to first-person rail mode.  You have to keep hitting the walk button to move through the house.  This really immerses you in the moment.  So overall the controls aren’t stellar but they’re good enough to get you through the game.  Score: 3

Hey Granny, was the bathroom to the left or the right of the psychadelic school hallway?

Aesthethics: Aside from the story, this is where The Path excels, in my opinion.  It’s all about atmosphere.  The graphics are very good & stylish.  The forest is suitably gloomy, only brightening in the special areas.  If you run for too long, the screen grows darker.  The audio is also very well done.  For the most part you hear the same main music as you explore the forest.  It’s very light, never becomes annoying, & will probably get stuck in your head (I’ve been hearing it since I started writing this review).  The music changes when you meet the wolves, & it’s very good as well.  It never fails to make your pulse race, knowing something’s about to happen.  Random noises abound to make you paranoid.  Chains rustle, swings creaking, & disembodied laughter are just a few of the noises you’ll come to expect.  But the real centerpiece is the house.  The house changes dramatically based on each girl.  The dark & disturbing visuals combined with haunting audio fills you with dread.  It doesn’t help that if you stand still for too long things go darker & the sounds become more sinister.  I HIGHLY recommend wearing headphones to get the full effect.  Score: 5

Replay Value: Slightly above average.  You probably won’t be able to get all the items or unlock all the rooms on the first playthrough.  Also, most people will probably play more than once to fully understand what’s going on.  That being said, the game doesn’t change any the more you play.  Score: 3

Breakdown

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Overall Score: 4

Final Words: This is certainly not a game for everyone.  If you prefer your games heavy on the action & everything clearly spelled out, I doubt you’d enjoy The Path.  However, if you’re willing to branch out from the normal, love trying to wrap your brain around obscure philosophical ideas, or want to see what new grounds gaming can achieve, it’s definitely worth checking out.

The Path is an indie game that can be purchased on Steam or from the Tale of Tales website for $10.

– GamerDame

Title: The Path
Console: PC
Rating: M
Developer: Tale of Tales
Publishers: Tale of Tales & 1C Company
Release Date: March 18, 2009

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Filed under 4, Horror, Indie, PC, Reviews