Journey Hands-On Preview

A brief demo of Silent Hill: Downpour was stressful enough. Then Metro: Last Light… I mean how loud can a private demo be? And don’t get me started on the military shooters — Really? A truck and a train exploding at the same time?

Then Journey. It’s not the only… well… slow-paced game that found its way onto the E3 show floor, and its attitude isn’t a first. Jenova Chen and the team at thatgamecompany created Flower, remember? The sixaxis breeze that brought an emotional hush over the industry? The “experiential” petal-palooza? The wind game. Journey continues the tradition of calming, subtle, wordless downloadable titles, and it comes just when gamers and critics need it most — between intergalactic armageddon and nuclear rapture.

Alone, swallowed by a vast desert and only a faint lighted mountain on the horizon, I go. My character, a small (it’s all relative), wispy traveler donned in a plain red cloak and glyph-covered scarf, sails the dunes fluidly and leaves a trail of sand. With a slight sixaxis nod, the camera bends. I press one button and sing. Another and I jump, floating down. This is all the control I’m granted, and all I need.

An empty scarf tells me I’ve jumped too much, errantly. A cracked, worn pillar on the ground nearby shimmers, and I approach singing — what other option do I have? I’m introduced to the other stars of this game, my cloth friends. These come in (I guess you’d call it) a flock, glowing, singing, and swirling around me, refilling my scarf-gauge. Handy friends to have, I find.

As with everything in Journey, I stumble upon a ruin. It’s like a temple — a big pedestal in the center, a destroyed cathedral of sorts at one end. Like before, I do what comes naturally; I sing more cloth free. I’m becoming a bit of a celebrity with my cloth followers. At the top of the pedestal, I sing again and release a swarm of the cloth bits. I jump and they carry me across to the cathedral. I sing again, and am transported.

I’m not alone. The MMO element of Journey has reared its head as another player (somewhere else at the show, I’m told, surfs the khaki waves with me. At first, this seems an intrusion. My gaggle of followers has flown south and now I’m stuck with another would-be starlet? Then we sing together, jump together, combine our flocks and free larger cloth segments. These dive in and out of the sand, like dolphins or salmon, giving us our only sense of direction in a barren, uniform world. I begin to enjoy the company, in all its forms.

And, as the demo comes to a close, I just start to settle into Journey‘s aesthetic. Sliding down sand banks is a clean thrill. The thrumming cello underscores movement and provides atmosphere. Joining in a chorus with cloth creates bridges, boosts, guides, even companions that I rely on, even enjoy. I’ve grown attached to these creatures, and my human partner, in a short time. The simplicity of action and the omission of deceptive wordplay dig into my emotional center, and I’m genuinely immersed and moved.

Back on the E3 show floor, Ryu Hayabusa carves open a platoon, spilling gallons of blood onto the screen.


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Author: Dan Crabtree View all posts by
Dan is Managing Editor for GamerNode and a freelance gaming writer. His dog is pretty great. Check him out on Twitter @DanRCrabtree.

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