Journey: Collector’s Edition
Journey: Collector’s Edition is actually a somewhat misleading title for this selection of thatgamecompany games. In fact it functions more as a boxset of the studio’s work to this point, containing as it does all three of their PS3 titles as well as a raft of extras a bonus material that make the value proposition considerable even for those already familiar with their ouvre.
The company’s first game, flOw, was based on co-founder Jenova Chen’s MSE thesis. Taking the role of a series of more complex aquatic organisms the game sees you delve deeper and deeper in a microscopic world consuming, growing and evolving over time. With no real goal or fail state the game functions more as a sandbox experience, and whilst basic, looking back it clearly sets the tone and feel of the subsequent games the studio would release. The company’s follow up, Flower, was released two years later and is a far more ambitious undertaking, even if it’s roots can be clearly traced back to flOw (no pun intended). Playing as a gust of wind (just go with it) the game sees you collecting petals and guiding them through open landscapes, whilst also telling an abstract but surprisingly moving story about our relationship to nature and the industrialisation of modern life. I loved Flower at the time and it is remarkable looking back years later to see still how much it still stands out in the gaming landscape. Whilst we are certainly in a time of unprecedented variety and scope in terms of gaming, from mobile to indie and AAA titles, there are still very few games out there as unique and risky as Flower feels, especially in terms of how it strips away so many of the conventions we are used to, yet still manages to engage as a game, not a lecture in disguise.
Finally we have Journey, the company’s latest game for which the collection is named, a game that, on the surface at least, is more conventional, being that it has you inhabit an actual person and includes play mechanics such as jumping. In it you play a mysterious character who wakes up in the desert, off in the distance a light shines from atop a mountain covered in the haze of sunlight. As you make your way to the mountain you traverse a wide variety of environments and even encounter other players as they are nonchalantly dropped into your game, in the name of friendly co-operation and companionship, an idea that is wonderfully realised. Again eschewing conventional tropes Journey instead plays as a meditation on life and our place in it, whilst simultaneously immersing you in one of the most gorgeous and well realised game worlds this generation. Going back to it now, the game retains its ability to enrapture, and its narrow focus and pitch-perfect pacing make it constantly feel fresh and exciting.
Taken together these three games embody the potential and variety that exists within games as a medium. They represent a studio forming and evolving, much as the organisms in their first game did, and growing in confidence and ability each step of the way. Retrospectively the extent to which Sony’s deal with thatgamecompany helped raise the profile of these smaller downloadable titles can’t really be overstated, the critical acclaim that especially found its way to Journey when it was released last year felt like watershed moment for the industry. The notion that smaller, more emotionally focused games could compete with the big traditional titles makes for a more exciting gaming landscape whichever way your favour goes. If you have yet to dip into these titles then there is no better place to start than this collection, as well as the three games as described you get a host of extras for each, including soundtracks, developer commentaries, making-of documentaries and concept art and themes. They have also bundled in three small titles made at various Game Jam events, which are something of a novelty but feature some two player fun at a very rough and ready level.
Freed from their exclusive deal with Sony it will be fascinating to see what thatgamecompany do next, and how the world of indie games changes alongside them. For now though this collection is the perfect excuse to experience some of the best, most unique games of this generation and either encounter them for the first time, or dive back in for one more play.
Reviewed on PlayStaton 3; game provided by Sony UK.
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