It is a very rare occurrence when I play a game and finish without finding a single negative thing to say about it. In fact, I don’t think there has ever been a time I have played a game without finding at least one negative thing to say, one critique, one suggestion, or one part that could have been improved or changed just a little bit. Well, I haven’t until now. ThatGameCompany’s Journey proved to be such a well crafted work of art, where for the very first time, I have racked my brain trying to find something negative to say and have come up empty-handed.
Despite the facts that Journey is a rather short game, has no lines of text or speech; Despite the fact that the online interactions in the game are anonymous, Journey still holds fast in its prowess in providing an incredible experience. What usually proves to be detrimental blows in other games, ThatGameCompany has succeeded in taking a firm grasp on and turning it into a complete experience.
Journey is such an apt name for this game. Taking control of this character, leading them through this beautiful world, is not only a Journey in name but truly feels like a journey for you, the one playing the game. Although Journey has no lines of text or speech for narration or storytelling, it is not void of a story by any means. Part of the experience of playing the game is uncovering the story and the deeper meanings, the message that is contained beneath the surface. Something that Journey does, and I appreciate, is make you think and one thing that it doesn’t do is tell you what to think. I believe this really adds to the overall satisfaction I felt when playing this game. Uncovering the story for yourself and finding the deeper meanings without it being handed out to you on a silver platter really gives you not only a sense of satisfaction but a more emotional connection to the character and the story contained within. Part of your journey will be to figure out what exactly is going on here, who your character is, where you are going, and why. There are a few cutscenes between levels that glue everything together with a narrative of sorts through artistry the likes of ancient wall or scroll paintings. The story is very short and can be completed in 2-3 hours, which for many people is one sitting. This may raise a few alarms, however I can assure you, although the game is short, it is not lacking. From start to finish the game will have your mind involved in a story and personal journey that just feels, right.
Your objective in the game is ultimately to reach the mountain peak you see when you first start the game. Why? That’s something you’ll have to find out when you play the game yourself. Along the way you will traverse vast landscapes of sand, snow, and water filled with ruins and hints about who you are and why you are on this journey. Secrets and items are hidden all around the game which can be found by gliding with the “wind” and following animal-like flag creatures you meet throughout the game. Collecting glyphs in the game will cause your character’s clothes to change by means of extending the banner-like trail. The longer your banner, the longer you will be able to glide and also when you face unexpected dangers later in the game, you have a better chance of surviving if you get caught in a sticky situation. Your journey will take you through areas where flags and banners are your friends and will help you reach heights, unreachable on your own, through an interesting connection your character has with the land. It’s a very unique idea and a very satisfying experience as you continue through the game.
The gameplay itself is very simple. Sometimes, less is more. Very few buttons are used to actually play the game. Navigation is controlled by the left analog stick and the camera can be controlled either by the SIXAXIS motion controls or the right analog stick. Other than that only about two other buttons are used to complete all other necessary functions throughout the game. Why would simplicity be more? It allows you to get more involved in the story and the experience than worrying about the gameplay and controls, thus allowing a nice fluid experience throughout the game itself. These few controls do allow for a wide variety of actions in the game though such as gliding, uncovering hidden secrets in the game, and piecing together the platforms, flags, and other objects necessary to continue throughout the game. What’s more, you do not have to do it all alone.
A pretty major focus in Journey is the online co-op which is very unique, tailored to fit the needs of the game and experience. Co-op in Journey is anonymous and almost random. While you yourself are progressing through your journey and scope out the landscape around you, you might see another figure out in the distance which happens to be your random mate. There are no lobbies, no matchmaking sessions, but multiplayer is integrated in a way where it feels like a natural part of your journey. In fact, on my first playthrough, I thought for a moment that this individual I came upon was an unplayable character, an AI, just another part of the game. But it quickly became apparent that this was another individual that was also on a journey and had crossed paths with me. There were no instructions to play together, in fact, if either of us wanted, we could have just continued on our way solo but the mystery surrounding who we were, where we were each going, prompted us to work together to reach our ultimate goal. The interesting thing about the co-op in Journey is that communication through the game is extremely limited. There is no voice or text chat – only musical “pings” of sorts that you can use from your character. Still, even with these limitations, the kinship felt by two explorers led us to work together and experience this magnificent trek as a duo with a deep connection that almost felt spiritual. An interesting part of how the co-op works is that even if you get separated from your partner, many times you will not know because you will seamlessly be connected to another person playing, giving the illusion that you are playing with the same person throughout your games. It is an added bonus when it is the same person, which you will find out at the end of the game after the credits.
Another standout characteristic of Journey is its aesthetics. Journey is one of the most beautiful games, visually, that I have ever seen. Screenshots do not do this masterpiece justice. Graphically, Journey may look simple on the outside, however when you play it the detail is absolutely amazing. At one point of the game, the golds, oranges, yellows, and reds that reflect the sun’s magnificence in the sandy landscape while you are rushing through is absolutely breathtaking. The snow, sand, sky, water, everything in this game is just so vivid, crisp, clean, and beautiful. This is truly an experience that must be had on an HD screen to get the full spectrum.
In addition to the beautiful visuals, the musical accompaniment is absolutely moving. As with any good film or game, the music used in Journey sets the mood and the experience in a captivating manner. The pieces are absolutely amazing and I for one can not wait until I am able to get the soundtrack and add it to my music collection. The musical arrangements seem to be heavily influenced by Asian classical stringed ensembles. Whatever it is, it is beautiful. The music flows perfectly with the world around you, your actions, and progress through the story. It only adds to the overall emotional investment you will find yourself having in this amazing journey.
What can I say? Journey is a masterpiece on the scales that I have not seen in ages. The music, simple gameplay, co-op, deep underlying meanings, astounding visuals, all come together to provide one of the best artistic, emotionally engaging, and breath-taking experiences I have ever had with a video game. The folks at ThatGameCompany did an amazing job. I highly recommend playing this game. Just download it, turn everything else off around you, and enjoy the experience. The only thing that might be a drawback for some is the short length of the game, however, you can play it again, experience it more, find more hidden items, and unlock special bonuses and trophies. Get Journey, it’s likely a move you will not regret.