An emotional experience unlike anything gaming has offered to date.
As much as I love gaming, I’d be one of the first to admit that the medium is a haven for lackluster derivates and imitations. If a formula succeeds, it will be recycled, rehashed and bastardized until market forces intervene. Even the most popular of triple A titles tend to feel a little too familiar at times but then again, must every game reinvent the wheel? My answer would no, but only because it’s enough when a few do and for that we have thatgamecompany. Anyone who has played flOw or Flower would at least be familiar with thatgamecompany’s inventive and minimalistic approach to game-making. While it may not appeal to everyone, few can deny their knack for producing comprehensively immersive experiences – or resist rekindling that old ‘what makes a game a game’ argument. With Journey however, they have broken new ground. Undeniably a game, unreservedly beautiful and capable of triggering emotions you probably never knew you had.
Much of Journey’s appeal stems from the small discoveries you make along the way, that and breathtaking moments so elegantly scripted they seem almost unique to your experience even though reason points to the contrary. Revealing any of these moments will not only diminish your experience but will be down right cruel so I will do my best to disclose as little as possible as a move away from superlatives to discuss bottom-line gameplay.
Journey’s protagonist is a small cloaked puppet-like creature, the design of which is not only intriguing but works flawlessly with the game’s environment. As your character embarks on the journey, making their way through the vast desert, your objective (though never stated) becomes clear. The point is the journey itself. There is no real right or wrong way to play, there is just the experience of the journey with some more traditional gaming sequences woven in seamlessly. Journey is at once completely unique and highly accessible. The act of just traversing sand dunes alone is done so remarkably well, you cannot seem to get enough of it. Along the way, you encounter what I can only describe as enchanted ‘fabric entities’ that you develop a symbiotic relationship with. You reanimate them and they endow you with the the ability to jump and glide freely across areas. This ability (visually represented as a glow of symbols on your character’s scarf) depletes with use but is frequently made available throughout the game. In addition, if connected to the PlayStation Network, you can encounter other players on their own journeys. There is no way to talk with these players beyond using the character’s call and even then, it works just to get a player’s attention or to assist them by recharging their scarf’s leap powers. Journey’s world is designed to make you feel overwhelmingly small, so companionship, despite (or perhaps due to) limited communication, is welcome, especially during consequent playthroughs.
Despite Journey being minimalistic, the experience is weighty. It is not hectic, in the classic sense since its never about winning or losing, but its impactful like no game I’ve ever played. It has a story and a pretty riveting one at that, but it is delivered exclusively through images and music. If The Artist proved you don’t need speech to make a great film in today’s cutthroat industry climate, Journey proves that the same holds true for games – storytelling in games to be precise. However, it is never the plot that really drives you but the emotion invested along the way. You may hear people say that Journey literally made them cry and by the end of it, you will understand why and even shed a tear yourself no matter how hardened you think you are.
Every design decision made works to the benefit of the experience and this extends from the headline material, down to the subtle nuances. The soundtrack is absolutely fantastic from start to finish. The visual style and character animations are exquisite. The sequences, the pacing, all perfect. The only complaint I can conjure up is that the journey ends before you are ready to let go, but the games simplicity is deceptive. Quantitatively speaking, It may be short on content and duration but it is surprisingly replayable as you will miss scores of discoveries during your first play-through.
I can ramble on about Journey for pages and pages on end but nothing I say can really explain the delight of such a game. I highly recommend everyone try it wholeheartedly. Take a break from your Modern Warfare 3, Skyrim, Mass Effect 3 or whatever you are playing now and give Journey a go – it really should not be missed. It is a short, breathtaking experience that is, without a doubt, a milestone in gaming history and finally puts to bed the whole ‘video game as art-form‘ argument.
If Journey is not art, I really do not know what is.