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Along for the ride: Hands-on with Journey's beta

Thatgamecompany is a proven winner with flOw and Flower, and it looks like Journey is certain to join the studio's hits, as Johnny Cullen explains in a hands-on with the multiplayer beta.

My first experience with Journey was little less than a year ago at gamescom in Cologne. I was sitting in a conference room in a hotel opposite the Koelnmesse with about 30-40 other journalists. Jenova Chen, who co-founded thatgamecompany alongside Kellee Santiago, gave a demo.

All I can remember from that Powerpoint is him showing a picture of Link from The Legend of Zelda. Then he played Journey: I was wowed. I was a big fan of the developer's last game, Flower, and immediately placed Journey in the same brackets; the lush art style; the desert landscape; the whole concept.

Skip a year and Sony's opened up a multiplayer beta for early buyers of Flower and the lucky few that grabbed one via a giveaway.

Or at least it's meant to be a multiplayer beta. I haven't come across another person playing it.

But let's do the obvious first: Journey is a beautiful game to look at. Honestly astonishing. I don't think I've seen an art style like it. The world is similar to that of Shadow of the Colossus, with vasts desert surrounding you.

You control a character similar in look to a Jawa, with Arab-like cloth wrapped around for good measure. The character's main goal is to reach a light shining upwards from a mountain top: it's always in view, but in the far distance.

As you use the left stick to start moving and - in a similar way to Flower's controls - the SIXAXIS motion controls to control the camera, you head towards the top of a sand dune, where you see the goal for the first time. There's an icon moment of the character on top of the dune, standing next to flags, with the mountain in the distance and the Journey logo atop.

Journey is a beautiful game to look at.

As you move from the top of the sand dune, you surf down the sand before approaching floaty tickets. Stand near them and they tag your scarf with light, giving you the ability to jump a short distance. Extra scarf lengths can be found by exploring, allowing for higher jumps.

You progress by solving basic puzzles: you climb a structure in the sand, sing to some flags to obtain a long jump to reach a ledge, and so on. In one part, you need to reach large flags waving in the breeze in order to build cloth bridges. After completing the challenges you're given enigmatic story elements from expressionless figures.

You can probably dash through the beta's three stages in about 20-30 minutes, but it's not a game that's meant to be "rushed." It's meant to be a game you can relax to, as Pat rightly pointed out in his commentary on the first two levels in the embedded movie.

And besides, Journey is best played with another person rather than just yourself, thanks to its unique multiplayer system. Along your travels, you'll encounter a random person on PSN who you've never met, who you don't have on your friends list. That person is someone that you don't know, and vice versa. And the kicker? You'll never know who it was. The only why you can communicate is by making the game's trademark singing noises.

As I said above, I've still yet to find someone in-game, so I can't give an opinion on it. The beta's supposed to be about trying out the online play, but there's definitely still interest there for the solo player.

Let's no pull any punches, though. Journey will not be for everyone's taste: don't just expect the lot who play just Call of Duty, Grand Theft Auto or FIFA to suddenly find interest in a game like this. The target audience is definitely those who want an innovative experience over shoot shoot, bang bang.

The beta's first two sections.

But there's another group of gamers who will almost certainly be keeping an eye on it: the Team ICO fanbase.

Journey, as I said, could easily be compared to Shadows of the Colossus in terms of its environments, but the general concept has shades of ICO and Ueda about it.

It may make a nice stop-gap while you're waiting for The Last Guardian and the ICO HD remixes. Whether that applies to you or not, we can only advise that you experience Journey's tranquility for yourself when you get the chance.

Journey releases this year on PlayStation Network.

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