C alifornia-based thatgamecompany has established a bit of a reputation for going against the grain since it opened its doors in 2006. Shying away from typical action-oriented blockbusters that seem to dominate the market, they've instead focused on creating shorter, more easily accessible titles with an emphasis on making an emotional connection with the player. Originally only available on the online Playstation Store, "Journey: Collector's Edition" compiles all three of their past titles, "Flow," "Flower" and "Journey" into one PS3-exclusive disc.
"Journey" is definitely the star of the package here, and deserves the most attention. First released back in March of this year, "Journey" has players controlling a nameless traveler found perched atop a sand dune in the middle of a desert, with a glowing clefted mountain barely visible in the background. The story is told entirely without dialogue through a series of short cutscenes at the end of every area you progress through as you try and eventually summit the mountain.
It's hard to say that you actually "play" the game; it unfolds like a story in front of you. Controls are limited to two buttons and the joystick, and there are no enemies to defeat, just landscapes to explore and events to bear witness to. Those who typically seek out games for a challenge might be inclined to pass it up after learning that there's no combat; the game guides you through areas very linearly, and the whole thing can be finished in about three hours. But skipping it would be downright criminal.
Everything about "Journey" is beautiful. Crazy beautiful. Between the hauntingly sprawling landscapes you traverse, to the nuanced animation of the traveler trudging up a sand dune and slowly growing tired, to the fully symphonic soundtrack that takes cues from and changes to match your movements, it's hard not to loll your head back and gurgle at how stunning the presentation of everything is. If there were ever a textbook example for the "Are video games art?" debate, this would be it.
The disc also comes complete with the full soundtracks for all the games included, as well as director commentary and loads of concept art. The bonuses aren't anything so spectacular as to warrant a purchase, but they are fun to skim through, and the art is pretty revealing of the game's progression through development.
"Flower" is thatgamecompany's sophomore effort, having come out in early 2009, and it shares several noticeable similarities with "Journey." Again, the game features no dialogue and a simplistic control scheme; the game uses the PS3's motion controls, so instead of actually hitting any buttons, you just tilt the controller to move your character. Your character, in this case, would be a flower petal that you guide through meadows and other locales as you seek out other flowers that blossom when you run into them.
That may not sound like the most fun. But it is! The game's environments and music slowly change and morph as you make progress, and the landscapes that you float and wind your way through are pretty stunning (though not as jaw-dropping as "Journey"). There's no way to lose the game; you're encouraged to sit back and watch the scenery change around you, and the whole thing can be knocked out in about two hours. It creates a unique emotional experience not often found in gaming and is completely worth checking out.
"Journey: Collector's Edition's" weakest link is "Flow." Originally a browser-based flash game launched in 2006, "Flow" has you control a piece of plankton as you steadily plunge deeper into a body of water, consuming other particles to grow larger. There's no central story here, and the controls attempt to use the PS3 motion controls like 'Flower,' but they're much more finicky and frustrating. Its presence doesn't detract from the other games in any way though, but its not nearly the same experience of the other two.
-- Sam Nixon is a self-proclaimed video-game nerd who writes reviews for the Daily whenever a rad new game is released.