The language of video games has changed over the years. The original Super Mario Bros. has what many consider the simplest and one of the best narratives in a game. No instructions are given. The player is put on the left side on the screen, with only the option to progress right. The screen locks, preventing you from returning, meaning all you can do is continue right. With only two buttons on the controller, it’s pretty easy to deduce how to play the game.
Games have seem to have gotten away from that, especially in the last decade. Many game now have complicated narratives, with built in and often times unskippable tutorials. In some ways I can’t fault them, it’s very difficult to cleverly teach the players how control the game, while also allowing them to play. Some of the better games introduce mechanics as you go, letting you get acquainted with the mechanics. Others go in the opposite direction, where the first 2, or sometimes 6 hours, are tutorial.
Last year, Journey was released for the Playstation Network (downloadable game). In a return to form, the game offers a simple, tight narrative. Game designers over the years have thought more is more, artificially inflating games with content to needlessly prolong the experience. Many games in the last 2-3 years have started to go the opposite route, offering a tight 2-4 hours experience.
Journey is game you could easily beat in 2-3 hours, but warrants multiple play throughs. You start in the desert, amongst a vast field of marks. Your character is ever silent, wrapped in a red cloak with only the eyes illuminated from under a dark hood. In the distance is your goal, a mountain. With your ever growing scarf, you make your way towards it. You travel through a ruined civilization, seeing many beautiful vistas on the way (4 min mark if the link doesn’t work).
As much as I want to discuss what happens if or when you reach your goal, this is something everyone should experience for themselves.
Just as narratives in games have evolved, so has multiplayer. Journey includes multiplayer. I’m sure you have the same reaction I did when I heard this. How? Why? I can report that it works wonderfully. The game randomly pairs you with some in the same area. If your console is online, you’re probably playing with someone else, whether you see them or not. You have no control over who or how you’re paired, and most importantly, you don’t know who this other player is. There is no way to communicate with them. If you find them, you can travel to the mountain together, assisting each other. Considering the games length, it makes it easy for you and your nameless partner to ascend the mountain together.
In the credits the game will tell you the names of your fellow players. There could be one, or several names. You might never see another person, only to see a name in the credits. In one of my play throughs I was fortunate enough to meet someone at the beginning, and without any means of direct communication, we made our way to the mountain. At the end we messaged each other, thanking each for being a good travelling companion.
Journey won IGN’s game of the year for 2012. I would be remissed if I didn’t mention the haunting and melodic score played throughout your adventure.
What games have struck a cord with you? What should I talk about next? Comment or tweet!