Review

Journey is the latest game from thatgamecompany, the minds behind Flow and Flower. Their games have struck a unique chord with gamers. Rather than rely on deep gameplay or story, their games tend to be deceptively simple. They are experiences, works of art in motion that demand your attention. Journey is the culmination of their past work and is easily one of the most memorable games you will ever play.

Journey is all about moving forward. You are never given an objective or a glowing trail to success. You are simply shown your destination, a light atop a distant mountain. This is conveyed in the same way many other points of interest are through excellent camera work. In God of War fashion the camera pans and zooms to deliver both the idea of where to go and the scale of the world around you. Ruined buildings litter the landscape, relics of a civilization long passed. Despite being a mostly linear game, the world is expertly crafted never making the world feel linear.

The extent of Journey’s narrative is presented in a few brief cutscenes that are reminiscent of cave drawings. These are used as a reward for progression and believe me, they are worth it. They allow you to see the rise and fall of the civilization of that once ruled the land you now traverse. They explain a great deal despite being brief and are worth watching again on successive playthroughs.

You’ve got a long…Journey…ahead of you.

Vast valleys and underground labyrinths make up the majority of your journey, but each new area is even more jaw droppingly gorgeous than the last. Everything from art style to coloring makes each new location feel drastically different from the last, even if that is not always the case. Lighting is also used to great effect. During a few dusk sequences the setting sun makes the desert sands look like shining gold and night sequences add a silvery glow. While most games rely on some sort of set piece action sequence to get players excited, thatgamecompany does an even better job with visuals alone. Sound design is also top notch. Journey’s original score is used to invoke emotion similar to how voice acting would in any other game. At times it invokes a desire to explore the world, other times it incites a sense of fear. Very few games can match the quality of sound design Journey has.

Early on you are given the ability to jump, but this is no ordinary jump. Holding the jump button send you higher and higher or further and further, almost to the point of flight, allowing you to quickly navigate the land and overcome obstacles. The only limitation is the duration for which you can jump. A patterned scarf trailing behind you acts as a sort of jump meter. As you use jump, the patterns fade until they are gone completely. Luckily there are magical cloths that can recharge your jump ability, as well as give you a bit of a boost themselves. You interact with them by holding the circle button and releasing a musical shout. The shout is also used to give life to dormant cloth in the environment which is often required to progress. While exploring, you will come across glowing symbols that increase the length of your cloth, thus increasing your jumping ability. While there is nothing wrong with the jumping mechanic, the fact that it is the only gameplay mechanic will turn away those that are looking for more than just an experience.

Sunlight on the sand is more beautiful than you’d think.

Journey’s most unique feature is its co-op. Similar to Dark Souls; Journey does not allow you to simply invite friends into your game. Others journey in the same world and you can openly interact with them. You can help them with a single task or spend the duration of the game with them. There are no sequences where you must have a partner and there is no way to speak or chat with them directly, but playing with another player is the best way to experience the game. The musical shout used to give life to cloth is also your best means of communication. Tapping circle lets out a smaller shout, making it easy to alert your partner of your location if they can’t see you or help you find them if they are ahead of you. It is easier than you would think to convey messages in this way. In playing I never found a partner with whom I could not communicate well with. In fact, I found myself having what seemed like conversations with them. It all sounds silly, but it added a whole new layer of enjoyment to an already enjoyable experience, despite that experience being a short one.

Journey is a game that can easily be finished in a single session, primarily because it is difficult to want to stop once you have begun. It is a short game, but at the same time it is the perfect length. Instead of adding unneeded padding, Journey promotes multiple playthroughs for different rewards. As the credits roll you are sent back to where your Journey began and as they finish you are given the chance to start again. Each journey is different because you will meet new people and be presented with new challenges as a result, giving Journey a great deal of replayability.

It is difficult to describe a game like Journey. You play it, but at the same time you are just along for the ride. The world is simple, yet elegant. It isn’t about interacting with the game; it is about how that game interacts with you. Journey is something you have to experience to understand, and it is something that everyone should experience.

 

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About the Author

Chris
No hard feelings... / Chris@thosegamingnerds.com /