The Game of 2012: Journey

On paper — and possibly words — Journey sounds like one of the dumbest game ideas ever. The premise is simple and minimalist; walk to the shiny part of the mountain. Since completing the game I have tried to verbalize and express how much I enjoyed this indie title to a handful of other gamers. They understand my passion for what I’m discussing, but not what words convey. The best way I could describe it is trying to explain to a friend who you love your significant other. They understand the adjectives you’re using, but not the feeling behind it.

It’s not really a surprise either. Emotion isn’t something that accompanies game descriptions very often. In an era where the majority of your perspective is down the iron-sites or through the crosshairs, feeling and any kind of sense of play other than “kill” is hard to find. And that is precisely what is so brilliant and inspiring about Journey.

The plot is almost non-existent; there are no spoken words; there is no lore presented to you other than what some ambiguously designed hieroglyphics provide, and there is only one way to communicate with a near identical stranger that accompanies you on your journey. At least, you hope they do. When first playing this game I thought the companion I’d discovered was an NPC. It wasn’t until the end of the game that I became aware of the human behind the avatar. Again, it’s a simple discovery, but one that was done so well that — I’ll admit it — I got a little choked up. But why? Why is a game that has so little creating such a heavy impact on me? I’m not supposed to get sad or happy to the point of tears in games. I’m supposed to dominate my opponent and find the best way to eliminate my enemy.

Thatgamecompany specifically designed Journey to be that way. They removed any way to let any kind of interference get in the way of you bonding with another gamer. There are no gamer tags until the end, so seeing a message that reads “YOLOxNUGS4LYFE” won’t take you out of, what is quite possibly, the most aesthetically beautiful game I’ve ever played.

Journey also makes you think about what kind of person you are when the ability to kill or grief is taken away from you. Seeing someone in the distance is exciting, but not because you finally have something to shoot at. Instead, it’s a buddy; a friend; a fellow traveller, and someone to share in the experience with. Helping each other isn’t just encouraged, it’s almost a necessity in order to collect a scattered array of scarf pieces that enable you to float and glide through the world.

The pacing in the game is done exceptionally well, as the music actually changes with how your adventure is progressing. Levels that are mostly walking are split up by levels that involve some visually stunning sliding landscapes, and the aspect of having someone along for the ride is basic, yet visceral.

I could go on for hours about this game, detailing each different adventure and experience and the individual emotions it pulled from me along the way. To summarize, Journey is one of the most innovative, simple, carefree, engaging, emotional, visceral, and human experiences I’ve ever had playing a game. In 2012 we had some of the biggest names in the business drop their titles, but none of them encapsulated as much meaning and feeling as Journey did. If you have a Playstation, or a friend who does, drop the ten bucks to get this game. It’s worth every penny.


Read This! With Michael Chen

Having survived the Mayan apocalypse and an apparently endless loop of the song “Last Christmas” it’s time to turn our attention towards what really matters: comics! Up until this point many of my recommendations have been geared towards those who don’t enjoy your traditional cape and tights story. This week is no different. Now before you groan (like a zombie) and leave (like a Lori Grimes (that was sad, huh?) come with me if you want to live/escape this parentheses!), hear me out. What if I told you there was a title out there where the CIA had to stop corporately created super-heroes. And what if I told you this premise was only the tip of a decades long conspiracy in which comic books are just propaganda? And THEN what if I told you this title featured a blend of gritty violence, comic timing and touching human moments you expect from a romantic comedy Michael Bay “film” Expendables 3. Yeah, Expendables 3.

Perhaps most importantly, what if I told you this title was written by a man responsible for some of the most memorable Punisher stories of all time. If you’re STILL not convinced what if I told you one of the main characters is modeled after Simon Pegg. You know, the guy with the accent from Shuan of the Dead, Star Trek and soon…Expendables 3? I made that last bit up but yeah, that guy. You cannot read this comic without hearing his voice. Hilarious! Ok so what IF I told you to pretend I actually told you all the things I was only telling you hypothetically? Because you need to take a seat. I. Just. Did.

If you read this comic Simon Pegg will talk to you…in your head…as a character punching superheroes to death.

The Boys. This is the title you should check out. Garth Ennis just ended an amazing seventy two issue run in what will surely go down as some of his finest work. Without getting into spoiler territory, Ennis deftly handles Hughie – the fella Simon Pegg looks like – an everyman type who is dragged into this conflict when someone he cares about becomes collateral damage. Here’s the thing about the world Ennis has crafted: these heroes are created with amazing powers but no sense of morality and even less training. The general public has no conception of how depraved and monstrous their “heroes” truly are because of the great public relations provided by the comics. So who could possibly watch the watchmen? The CIA backed group The Boys is Ennis’ unqualified answer.

I’ll only say a couple more things about this title since I’d like to save some time for those who DO enjoy superhero stories (or at least don’t want to see super”heroes” killed in terrible – sometimes hilarious – ways):

1. Darick Robertson (the co-creator and penciler on the series) does a passable job but those who are looking for the more chiseled and detailed look associated with some mainstream titles may be disappointed. However, there is something to be said for the consistency of having a writer AND artistic team working on the entire series. In addition, what Robertson’s pencil’s lack in precision they make up for in personality. Hughie offers the underdog humor and heart that Simon Pegg brings to many of his projects and the smile on team leader Butcher’s face is the perfect blend of glee, cruelty and intelligence.

2. Ennis is patient with his writing. This is undoubtedly a good thing. The series is not so long that this patience wears thin and Ennis is always mixing in a healthy blend of sex, violence and humor to keep you entertained even when the plot isn’t moving forward at a breakneck pace. In a seventy-two issue run I probably found myself thinking “get to the point” once. The balance of not revealing back-stories or major plot points too soonwhile still keeping his comic fun to read is impressive.

Last name Butcher, First name whocaresmylastnameisBUTCHER!

So that’s what I have to say on The Boys. It is pretty easy to find the entire run in twelve collected trade paperbacks. While these trades are a few dollars pricier than your standard DC/Marvel paperbacks, they are well worth it.

On to some promised quick commentary on capes and tights…comics. First up is my favorite Marvel title out there: All New X-Men. I’ve always been a fan of what writer Brian Michael Bendis has done over in Avengers land and now he’s bringing his magic to my favorite childhood cartoon/superteam: The X-Men (are you humming the cartoon theme song in your head right now? What about now?) The comic features Beast’s cockamamie scheme to introduce the idealistic Scott from the past to the guilt ridden mutant revolutionary Cyclops of the increasingly tragic present. Sure, this sounds like a cheesy premise and time travel generally doesn’t work out so well but Bendis is the master and this is shaping up to be one of the most enjoyable five issue arcs (issue five comes out next week) in recent memory. Admittedly, the comic will be a lot more enjoyable for those familiar with the original X-Men. Seeing old humanoid Beast meet his present secondary-mutation/blue self or Wolverine reacting to Jean Grey or that same Jean discovering her telepathy and fearing present day Scott just as she is falling in love with her Scott? Gold. Comic goldness (Coincidentally, I would use the same phrase to describe cartoon Cyclops’ undergarment choices) Single issues aren’t too difficult to find and Marvel will be releasing a hardcover of the first story arc in February.

Comic goldness.

Over in DC-land I hope you don’t need me to tell you to read what Scott Snyder is doing with Batman. If you’re missing the Joker’s return in “The Death of the Family” storyline then stop it. Just stop it. But this is all a tangent. OBVIOUSLY read Snyder’s Batman. If you have been avoiding Justice League (or understandably disenchanted with the scattered nature of its first year) now is the time to jump on board. The trouble with Justice League stories in general is they boil down to Batman detecting since his ninja skills don’t do much against Darkseid’s invulnerability to being ninja’ed. This of course means other characters – most notably Superman – get their brains removed to highlight how Batman is the only one that can detect/show heart/operate the Keurig. What this title has desperately needed is some focus on character interaction.

This week’s Justice League #15 kicks off the Throne of Atlantis storyline in which Aquaman and the League must stop Ocean Master from using the combined might of Atlantis to start sinking part of Amurica. The threat of a single character’s enemy allows writer Geoff Johns to put in some good work. While previous arcs focused on Superman villain Darkseid or Wonder Woman nemesis Cheetah, there was just no time devoted to making these more recognized villains interesting. However, in the first issue of this arc Johns immediately sets up a sympathetic adversary. The crossover with Aquaman #15 is not critical to enjoying Justice League but you’ll be missing out on one of DCs best titles. Johns’ ability to turn clichéd throwaway interactions into comic goldness (seeing Cyclops’ underwear now?) is truly highlighted in Aquaman #15 and I can’t wait to see where this crossover goes.

Shameless plug time: Michael is the owner of Manifest Comics in Bayonne, New Jersey. He has the “job” of serving some of the best comic customers and fans a new shop owner could ask for. If you don’t leave near his shop you can still help out by liking the facebook page.

Enemy Starfighter Prototype video

So this is apparently being made by a former Bungie developer. Check out the transition between the strategic view and the cockpit view; it’s pretty cool to watch. Keep in mind this is with prototype graphics, and nothing is even remotely polished yet. This is definitely a game we’ll be keeping an eye on.

Read This: With Michael Chen

Greetings from Manifest Comics! One of the great aspects of owning a comic book store is being able to recommend the medium’s best hidden treasures. Often “hidden” is code for anything that doesn’t involve superheroes. Introducing customers to Chew, Saga and other awesome titles has been a blast. The first time someone reads a great comic that doesn’t involve capes you see a light bulb go off in their head. Ok that isn’t true. That would be weird. But you can’t really describe the spark of discovering how expansive and amazing this medium is any other way.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I love myself a good superhero story. Marvel’s NOW initiative has got something great going with Brian Michael Bendis’ All New X-Men and over in DC-ville (not an actual city) everything Geoff Johns writes is awesome to incredibly…awesome and Scott Snyder’s impressive run on Batman is peaking with the return of the Joker in the Death of the Family storyline. But you don’t need me to tell you about mainstream titles. You need me to tell you about things you haven’t heard of. So here goes!

Surprisingly, most individuals don’t realize that the author of the comic matters. Let me explain: Remember that time I told you “you don’t need me to tell you about mainstream titles”? It was like eighteen-ish seconds ago depending on how fast you read/I type. Well Marvel and DC are counting on this. This isn’t to say they don’t put their best writers on their flagship titles but they know they don’t have to all the time because what sells comics are titles like the Avengers and Justice League not names like Fraction or Hill. Case in point: Matt Fraction has long been one of Marvel’s better writers and his work on the new Hawkeye series (Hawkeye has his own comic?) is actually really good. The writing, tone, covers and interior art are all spot on. This comic is fun! But what about Mr. Hill? Thanks for providing my transition.

Joe Hill is the second son of Stephen King (it is not like being a second cousin…I looked it up to be sure). See, Joe got it in his head that he wanted to write but wanted to make it on his own merits – hence the pen name (like father like son). Hill’s breakthrough work was Heart Shaped Box about a heart…shaped…box…of horror! Did that scare you? Come on! Give him a chance. His dad once made evil TRUCKS scary. While a New York Times Bestseller is impressive if you’re into that sorta thing, Hill won the 2011 Eisner award for best writer. The Eisner is like the Grammy’s of comics minus Chris Brown using it to launch a comeback. I mean, that would be like Hank Pym getting a second chance after beating his wife #amirightultimatesfans? Sorry. Sorry about that.

So Joe Hill. The guy has been writing one of the premier dark fantasy/horror titles in comics for the past five years. It took four years for the industry he was working in to begin recognizing his work. But if you haven’t read it yet, its all new to you. Locke and Key follows an unsuspecting family as they move into Keyhouse – a mysterious New England mansion. In a premise that would make daddy proud, Hill’s Keyhouse has an important twist – no, they aren’t all dead. You’re confusing the premise with American Awful Terrible Horrible? American Horrible Story. No, Keyhouse is filled with doors that can transform whoever passes through them. Some change the person into a spirit while their lifeless body remains in the doorway. Other’s allow the traveler to change genders. There is even an all powerful door that allows individuals to transform into anything. Now that would be worth killing for! Of course, there is a mysterious ghost in the house already. A spirit that hopes to manipulate the characters for its own designs.

It is difficult to describe the plot further without spoiling it for you but there are numerous elements that make this title standout. Locke and Key comes in easily digestible story arcs since it is largely published as consecutive miniseries. This makes jumping in relatively easy since the first collected story arc is fairly self-enclosed. Hill makes sure to devote chapters to each characters’ perspective. This is an effective (and quick) way to get readers to understand the actions of the cast. This understanding is important when you consider so much of the house is a mystery. What is the connection to the family’s past? Who is the ghost? Why are children always doing what ghosts tell them to?!

The tension that Hill evokes is classic suspense. There is a sense of dread but this never devolves into gore/torture porn. Instead, Hill does an exemplary job of making you worry for this family. Much of the reader’s connection comes from the art of Gabriel Rodriguez. The use of shadows would make any cinematographer jealous and Rodriguez should be truly proud of the work he has done here. The artwork is innocent – almost cartoonlike – rather than going for the over-muscled “realism” of superhero comics.

Obviously an extreme example of an error…in everything.

There isn’t much else to say about Locke and Key. Those looking for something different in comics or those who just like darker stories in general should definitely give this title a try. I suppose the highest praise I can provide is this: I do not generally enjoy the genre of horror but still gave this book a try. It was enjoyable in every sense…including the sense of impending dread. BOOM! Sorry. Sorry about that. That was bad.

Shameless plug: Michael owns Manifest Comics and Cards in Bayonne, NJ. If you are nowhere near Bayonne, NJ you can still support the shop by “liking” the facebook page.