The first time I played Flow six years ago, I started it late and ended up glued to the screen until 6am. It’s an experience you can just be swallowed up in. Just as it gets difficult, it expands and resets.
You play as a basic underwater life form that must eat smaller creatures in order to grow. The game takes place on a series of 2D stages and movement is controlled by turning the PS3 SixAxis controller with a press of any button making you move faster. As with all of ThatGameCompany’s PS3 games, there isn’t a heads-up display and next-to no tutorial, but you should find this an easy experience to get into.
Smaller creatures are eaten by swimming into them mouth-first. Certain creatures enable you to grow faster, eventually gaining new body parts, making you a more dangerous predator. Larger foes can be taken on, but you’ll need to attack their tails first, and then retreat when they retaliate. Any hits you take could result in diminished growth.
Just as you grow into an impressive basic life form with fins and a tail, you’re pulled back to a hub and given a new species of creature to evolve. You’ll face different enemies and will evolve a decent range of creatures including a predecessor to a jellyfish that can spin and suck in tiny enemies and even a sort of cellular dolphin that attacks with darting moves.
It’s a strange game, but like that first playthrough all those years ago, I found myself just zoning out and swimming through the primordial pools. The soothing music really pulls you in and threatens to put you under too. A good thing?
This was the first title on PS3 from ThatGameCompany where people really started to sit up and take notice, and it’s still one of the most unique titles on Sony’s digital platform.
You control the wind, or more specifically, a group of floating petals flying though a field in an attempt to reinvigorate each area, bringing colour to the world in concepts not a million miles away from the likes of Okami and DeBlob 2.
The gust of petals is steered with the SixAxis motion controls and driven forward by pressing a button. Steering can be quite difficult, especially in tight spots where you’ll need to stop and turn the pad in achingly slow turns when you want to double back. You get the impression that Uncle Sony really wanted the devs to push motion control. It’s far from broken, but a patch to allow analogue control would have made me want to revisit the game more often.
When flying around, the aim is to hit unopened flowers giving you extra petals as you go. Flowers appear in lines, circles or just on their own. Collecting all of a certain group is often rewarded with a colourful flourish washing over the land. One particularly impressive stage gives your trail of petals a magical quality that allows you to paint brightly coloured paths through the grassy meadows.
Exploring the fields and their immaculate plains of grass where every blade wields to your presence is one of PS3’s most surprisingly exhilarating scenes while also being relaxing and serene, it’s just a nice game to play in.
And it is a game, rather than any sort of arty experience. That much is made clear by the time you have to carefully navigate electric pylons that damage your trail of petals. After the relaxed nature of the rest of the game, it feels like an unnecessary trial and thanks to the rather vague movement controls, it can derail the chilled out mood that the rest of the game provides.
Of the three games in this collection, Journey is the one you’ve probably already heard of as it racked up tonnes of awards last year. Story is minimal, but there’s enough provided to spark your imagination about what it all means. You may get a spiritual vibe from it or maybe emotional reactions varying from elation to downright depressing. You’ll be sure to play it more than once though.
I’m not going to go into too much detail about the stages and landscapes as the game clocks in at under two hours if you don’t try to find everything, so I don’t want to ruin any of the surprises for you. In simple terms, you start of as a shrouded ‘person’ in the desert with the aim to travel towards the high mountain in the distance.
Unlike the above two games, motion controls are thankfully not forced upon the player. You move with the stick and can do floating jumps on occasion if you have charged one at specific locations. You can acquire larger jumps by collecting glowing glyph symbols scattered throughout the world, also giving a longer scarf in the process.
Journey is designed to be played with an online connection, but it’s in no way mandatory. I heartily encourage you to try both. If played online, another player may appear in the environment with you. There’s no notification, no PSN ID, or any form of in-game chat or messaging.
The first time I spotted someone, they were on a distant dune just staring across the sands at me. It was intensely creepy and more than a little unnerving as I’d been completely alone beforehand. Rather than yank out my ethernet cable I decided to go and say hello. Well, press the Circle button to emit a chirpy chiming noise that is the game’s sole form of communication.
We spent the rest of the game together in what was a unique experience. We helped each other with puzzles and pointed out collectible items for each other with only the basic form of communication between us. Travelling with another player also allows you to recharge your jump by chiming at each other at any time.
Naturally, some people will take a charge from you then sod off without charging you up to, but generally, players I’ve met have been well on-board. Interactions can be surprisingly varied. With one partner we stuck together through and through, another I had a race, with them at a distance but parallel to my own climbing.
Or you can just mess around, as I did by running around one player showing them how long my scarf had grown compared to their ragged little stump. It kept getting caught on their head, it was quite amusing. Until they ran off and were replaced by someone in a gold cloak that is. Gold! I don’t know where they got it, but I really want one.
Despite its short nature, it’s a no-brainer to recommend any gamer to play Journey. In addition to all of the above qualities, the game is utterly gorgeous. I can’t tell you about most of it, that would be cruel. But the lighting indoors as sunlight pokes between arches, or the way sand spills out of your way when you slide down a dune are early highlights that I can’t help but share. The rest awaits you. Don’t miss out.
Strangely, each game must be downloaded from the disc onto your hard-drive rather than just play it from the disc. In spite of this, you’ll still need the disc to run them. So much for saving a bit of space for your PS Plus collection.
The package also contains a few extras to make it worthy of the Collector’s Edition label. Each game’s excellent soundtrack can be exported to your PS3’s hard-drive along with numerous gallery images. There are commentary videos for each game and a 30-minute dev diary documentary for Journey. Three games from the developer’s early days, efforts created at 24-hour Game Jams, are also included. Sadly, they’re very buggy and poor to play.
In terms of value for money, you can already get this new edition for around £15, saving you a few quid when you add up Flow, Flower and Journey’s prices on PSN. Journey alone is a tenner. With the extras thrown in and the enjoyable nature of ThatGameCompany’s other two PSN titles, this is a worthy purchase to any gamer yet to experience Journey.
- Turns out Journey isn’t overrated
- Subtle replay value for Journey
- Flow and Flower still hold up very well
- Forced Six-Axis motion-controls on Flower can annoy
- Pointless downloading from disc
- Game Jam games are pap
The Short Version: Journey makes this worth the price of admission alone. Despite only lasting a few hours, you’ll want to play it over and over again. The addition of Flow and Flower provide a great opportunity to catch up with the developer’s earlier work, both of which still hold up well today. It’s all about Journey though really. Isn’t it about time you caught up with what everyone’s been talking about?