Eurogamer Expo 2011: Journey hands-on
Set up on four machines – one of which had crashed – Journey was hidden within the Uncharted 3 area, meaning I had the unpleasant disarray of twitching teenagers and AK47 fire spilling over nearby, the sheer volume trying to compete with the minimal visual beauty that was pouring out from in-front of me. I almost missed Journey thanks to its low profile, and just managed to catch it as I was leaving the Expo to head back to the promised land (and wash the three day binge of body odours and polygons from myself).
Jumping in midway through the demo, I drifted over sand dunes and across a desert, searching for a reason, some onscreen objective. It was just the three of us – me, the invisible controller, a nameless lady and a piece of carpet that was swirling through the air and diving into the dunes, slipping back out from the sand and dancing in the rays of the midday sun – who were together in this infinite void. The red carpet, who I shall now refer to as George, was dancing ahead towards a nearby dune and back again. These movements were a signal, like a dog wagging its tail it wanted me to follow.
Moving forward, she slid down the bank, waves of sand blowing away like ripples in water. I continued to follow George, seeing him swim back through the air in impatience if I fell behind. Eventually we came across a small ruined monument, poking through the sand like old exposed bones. It felt natural that something was required of me and this silent lady I was leading, as George circled around the discovered structure. Holding down one of the buttons, she slowly floated into the air, pure white light travelling out of her body and engulfing the monument.
Shortly after, another magic carpet-like creature appeared to join George, born from the white light I’d cast down. For the briefest moment they danced together before heading off. “There must be more of them to find and they’re leading the way”, I thought.
Swapping the black and white spectrum for an endless desert of soft pastel colours, Journey is reminiscent of Playdead’s Limbo in the way a serious story is being told while you revel in the achievement of learning on your own. There were no onscreen commands, no voices and indication of where to go next, yet I was never lost.
The character design was of great importance. A polar opposite of modern gaming heroes, often white and muscular, visiting war zones in the middle-east to save the day, this nameless woman was born from Arab history and influence, her dark face partially covered by the long cloak she wore, every movement conducted with elegance and grace as she travelled across the eternal desert. Her appearance bordered on the alien, making her a collage of fantasy and history.
There couldn’t have been a more suiting title for this game. Journey was unique, standing out from a hail of gunfire and competitive e-sports as a lush tale that wanted to told and needed to be heard. It’s one of the few times I’ve walked away from a title and felt a twang of disappointment that I don’t own a PS3 console at home. For those of you that do, and want a game where the pace and artistic design is weaved together to create an alluring, esoteric fable, then this is for you.