Developer: thatgamecompany (TGC)
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
Thatgamecompany, the developers behind Flow and Flower, have released the highly anticipated game Journey. Traversing a vast land with an online component that differs from the norm and a ton of mystery behind it, Journey is truly an experience different to other releases on the market today. Is Journey a legendary trip, or does it keep asking “Are we there yet?” over and over? Get your best travel scarf, it’s time for the review.
Insert your “It’s not the destination” pun here
In some ways, Journey isn’t your typical video game. There aren’t any guns, weapons, or major boss battles – in fact, the only enemies in the game are large, stone, dragon-type creatures, and all you can really do is avoid their line of sight whenever possible. The other creatures in the game are made of the same cloth as your cloak and scarf, which serves a specific purpose later on. What Journey does have in common with other games is a main character and a set goal: Get to the mountain.
You play as a mysterious, cloaked stranger with no name, no clear gender, and no clear identity. Even the setting and how you wound up in the middle of a desert remains a mystery. As you progress, you find glowing symbols that grow out of your scarf. The scarf is used for jumping and floating to reach areas of the game that can’t normally be reached, or to move faster. Each time you jump, you use up the scarf’s power, and it can only be refilled at refilling stations made up of smaller pieces of cloth, by the cloth animals, or by standing next to other players.
Each level contains a somewhat simplistic puzzle which usually involves building bridges or raising parts of the area to get to higher ground. At the end of each level, the stranger meets up with another stranger (presumably one higher in the pecking order) dressed all in white. These white-cloaked strangers tell the story of Journey through hieroglyphic pictures, and they talk about the remains of a city and eventually your future as the player progresses through the game.
I hope I don’t get sand in my shoes
There are only two other controls to use in Journey outside of movement. One is jumping, and the other is a “ping”-type sound used to either illuminate statues, hieroglyphics, other cloths, or to communicate to other players on the screen. These other players are not characters controlled by AI either, but other players somewhere in the world playing at the same time. Amazingly, the game doesn’t slow down with these other players on the screen.
When you play Journey the first time around, you can play with a number of different people. Journey never tells you who you’re playing with until the end, and it’s not necessarily clear when you run into them. Despite the fact that you don’t know who you play with, there is a special feeling of being with someone on your trip through Journey that makes this game beautiful.
I’m not crying, I have virtual sand allergies
Everything about Journey is evidence in the argument for how video games can be pieces of art. The soundtrack is hauntingly beautiful, being mostly comprised of violins, although there is an orchestra that follows suit from time to time. The music doesn’t just set the tone for the game, it makes you feel every song being played. The shifts in melody are smooth as the player travels from one level to another, and every song in the game is seemingly deliberate, as the game knows where you are in the level and sets the tone for that.
Visually, Journey is a stunning game. The environment shifts from desert to mountain tops wonderfully, and the colors are awe-inspiring. The sand shines under the high sun, and as the sun begins to set, the environment shifts from a golden brown to a reddish-type hue. The underground areas are in black and blue tones, and when you finally emerge from these you are greeted with white, snowy mountains. The transitions are seamed together by the end of the levels and accompanying cutscenes.
Going into the light
The downside of Journey is that it is very short. You can complete your first run in about three hours, and that is with a fair amount of exploring. Still, for $15 you aren’t buying a traditional game and that should be taken into consideration. This game is about the journey and the world within the game, so the length isn’t necessarily a factor. The world of Journey is so engrossing, you will want to explore it.
Journey will make you reflect on video games as art and how you feel about gaming overall. It’s a beautiful gaming experience that should be shared by everyone, from the hardest of “core” gamers to the simplest of “casual” gamers. It does this by playing up the unique experience of the game and by the genuine beauty within the world. Journey is not only a contender for downloadable game of the year, but an early contender for game of the year. Please, play this game. The investment of both time and money doesn’t amount to much overall. However, it’s the experience of Journey that sells the game. Also, there is a beautiful payoff at the end, one which you can’t put into words or be reflected by the final score of this game.
Final Verdict: Journey gets 10 cloaked strangers out of 10
This review is based off a retail copy of the PSN version of Journey by Thatgamecompany