Pushing the boundaries
‘Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is not found in finishing an activity but in doing it.’ - Greg Anderson
Preparing a review of Journey was almost as daunting as the journey you are faced with when you first start the game. Putting into words the majesty and grandeur of thatgamecompany’s latest PlayStation Network release is no easy task... but hopefully I can do the game justice.
It won’t be surprising to people who have played previous games from thatgamecompany, namely flOw and Flower, that Journey is as visually stunning as it is marvellous to listen to. The indie developer has consistently been pushing the boundaries of how game mechanics work to create an emotive experience for the player. In Journey, the game mechanics, while limited to simply walking, sliding and jumping, are an absolute joy to control.
Full of questions
Throughout the game, you have endless questions you have the burning desire to ask someone, but there are no words spoken in the entire story, so your answers can only come from yourself. You play as a cloaked figure with no name, no origin story and a face hidden by a hood such that only the eyes shine through. Who are you? Where are you? What is at the top of that mountain in the distance and what could possibly be creating the light coming out of the top? In a seemingly endless desert, and with the game giving you no direction, this mountain is the only discernible landmark, so you walk towards it in search of answers.
At first, all you can do is walk around, which is nice enough in itself, the way the sand moves around your feet as you move looks superb. Soon, though, you discover some pieces of red fabric which dance around you and attach themselves to your scarf. Your scarf acts as a kind of meter on a HUD-less screen showing you for how long you can jump. You can recharge your jumping energy simply by walking near one of the many groups of fabrics scattered throughout the world. Even though there are no directions, Journey does a good job of never making you feel lost. Collecting special glowing items increases the length of your scarf, but to find them all you’ll have to do some exploring. Yet more questions. Is this some sort of spiritual energy? Perhaps this is a kind of religious pilgrimage? Then you leave the questions behind for a while and revel in the joy of jumping around and sliding down sand dunes.
The main challenge in Journey is some very basic platforming and puzzle solving. The circle button makes your character emit a single note, and holding down and releasing the button creates a sort of shockwave which is used to activate these apparently living pieces of red fabric. They can act as a bridge to get you from place to place, or can enable you to jump to previously out of reach places. Also you can... wait a minute, who’s that?
Support by simply being there
The first time you encounter the multiplayer in Journey is an almost magical experience. Anyone playing the game can seamlessly join your game at any time, they’ll simply be waiting for you at the top of a ledge or at the bottom of a sand dune. Don’t worry about griefing, though. The beauty of the simple game mechanics means that it is pretty much impossible. The multiplayer is also entirely optional, you might want to go off in a completely different direction than your companion, and it is possible to do so. There is no voice chat and you can’t see their name. Their sole purpose in your world is simply to give you a chance to have someone else to experience it with. Later on in the game having a companion by your side is especially emotional. As the journey becomes harder and harder for your character, it’s nice to have someone there and it feels as though you are looking out for each other, even though mechanically there is barely anything you can do to help out your fellow adventurer. The increasing difficulty for your character leaves you asking more questions. Why am I making this journey? You start to feel your character’s pain, and are right there with them for every arduous step. What would happen if you just turned back? But you can never bring yourself to.
Journey through emotions
I feel that going in to Journey without any real idea of what is going on is integral to the experience of your first playthrough, so I won’t go into the specifics of any story elements. I will simply say that there are more than a few absolutely breathtaking moments in the game, where I just had to put the controller down and take it all in. These elegant, poignant moments are balanced out by contrastingly euphoric sequences where you glide around basking in the magnificence of it all. This is all accompanied by a rapturous soundtrack which rises and falls in a manner in which you are always aware of, yet it all happens almost unnoticeably. Put simply, this game is beautiful.
There was a moment when all of the sounds fade out altogether, and it became strangely silent, both in the game and in the room where I was playing in. I realised that I had left my computer unattended for so long that it had turned itself off, something that I don’t remember happening whilst playing a console game before. This is a testament to how compelling Journey is. Perhaps too compelling for its own good, however, as it is very easy to complete the game in one sitting with the game length clocking in at only around two hours. But this isn’t a game to play once and never come back to. As soon as I was finished I wanted to jump straight back in and play it through again, hopefully finding something I missed the last time. In fact, there is a trophy for coming back to the game within seven days after the last time you played it... thatgamecompany certainly had a vision for what they wanted to achieve with this game.
You have the answers
Journey asks no questions and gives no answers. Everything is left up to the player to decide, and it is wonderfully refreshing. The game does a great job of driving you forward and there wasn’t a single moment where my attention wasn’t directed solely at the screen. I rarely throw the word masterpiece around, but it truly is, and I would urge anyone to play this game, you won't regret it.
Undeniably beautiful, both visually and aurally. An incredibly emotive experience. High replay value
Short game length. Lack of any real challenge