Friday, December 7, 2012
Now this is interesting!
My favorite indie game of the year, Journey, just got nominated for a Grammy Award for "Best Score Soundtrack For Visual Media." It goes up against a slew of excellent movies this voting season, including: Hugo, Tintin, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and The Dark Knight Rises. This marks the first time an entire album has ever been nominated based off an original video game soundtrack. And what makes it so cool for me is that I genuinely enjoy the heck out of this game! (And, yes, I've already downloaded it off iTunes, of course!)
Journey is a very simple, beautifully moving adventure released exclusively on the Playstation Network back on March 13th. It takes roughly 2 - 3 hours to complete and costs less that $15 to download from the Playstation Store. There is no dialogue. No guns. No fighting. No drawn-out cutscenes. You start out as a mysterious robed figure who's born out of a comet hitting the desert sands early one morning. From this point on you must guide this figure across the dunes on some unexplained quest that even he or she does not understand. Your only clue is a great big mountain peak rising up to the sky in the far distance. A bright beacon of light beckons to you from the summit of said peak, somehow drawing you forward. It's a journey, you see? One that will take you across great expanses and against sometimes impossible odds. And like all great journeys, it's not the destination that is important, but your experiences along the way that shape who you will become.
Journey also uses online play in a unique way which I totally enjoyed. If your PS3 is connected online, the game allows other players to intrude on your session. Now, "intrude" is perhaps too negative a connotation here. In Journey, random online players can appear in and out of your adventure at any time, offering to team up with you along the way if you so desire. You cannot speak to one another, or even see the other player's gamer tag (aka, user name). Your only form of communication is through a series of musical notes. Yeah, how rad is that? Somehow, some way--through carefully placed musical cues and the context of your actions--you and your companion can get the gist of things and work together toward a mutually beneficial goal. Which is, to reach your destination atop that mountain! On my first play through, I ended up buddying up with some guy from China randomly chosen by the game's servers. Because we could not speak to each other, and because there is no dialogue or text to read in the game itself, cultural and language barriers were never an issue. It's was all about the gameplay! Which, frankly, is how it should be.
Check out the trailer below for just a taste of the beauty and majesty this title brings:
Journey is a title that urges pure, unadulterated exploration and puzzle solving. What I loved so much about it is that most of the story is inferred by the gorgeous scenery and music. As such, the orchestral score is some of the most haunting, evocative pieces you'll ever hear. The type of score you'd expect from a deep, well-thought out foreign indie flick. Not a video game!
So it is no surprise to me that the score was nominated for such a top honor. The game's composer, Austin Wintory, did an outstanding job. Wow! And kudos to all the hard work from the members of the orchestra, especially the main cellist, Tina Guo. She's absolutely fantastic here!
I also love how much the scenery and colors draw you into this world. You start out with the golds and reds of the unending desert sands, move on to the muted greens of a sunken world, and eventually on to the drab blues and foamy whites of the snow-capped higher elevations . . . moving inexorably toward that bright light beckoning to you from afar. Along the way, as you successfully solve puzzle after puzzle with the aid of an online buddy, your robed protagonists gain wonderful abilities like incredible jumping height and even a form of flight. Given how much I love flying, you can only imagine how cool this was for me!
But perhaps the most thrilling aspect of the game comes early when you have to dune surf your way to the end of the stage. Yes, you read that correctly: dune surf. As in, surfing on sand instead of water! Or "sand skiing," if you want to get caught up in particulars.
I'll leave you all with this video of a German player's dune surfing session, which not only confers the sheer fun of this game, but the amazingly gorgeous visuals. Check out the lighting and spectrum shift when entering the terraced area of the ancient city. Jaw-dropping!
By the way, those energetic carpet bundles you see gliding through the air alongside your character, dipping below and above the sands like dolphins, are sentient helpers you had to rescue earlier. They assist you sometimes, lending magic to your depleting stores so that you can gain lift and maintain flight when you most need it.
Did I not mention this game is awesome? You should all play it sometime. It's a title anyone can pick up and enjoy.