Every now and again something very special happens in the gaming world.
For me this is one of those moments, I reviewed Journey here.
Read my thoughts below.
I’ll preface this review with a simple contention: Journey proves that the world of videogaming has finally grown up. A bold statement but a fair one. Coming close upon the heels of the similarly envelope-pushing art-house masterpiece Dear Esther, Journey shows that the scope for popular, intelligent and emotionally engaging craft to come from the videogame industry is not only possible, it’s already arrived.
Journey is the latest game from ThatGameCompany, the talented folks behind the spirallingly beautiful Playstation Network titles fl0w and Flower. Having taken full advantage of the returns of their previous efforts, they’ve capitalised on the time and ingenuity necessary to bring out a wholly revolutionary title, which broadens not only the horizons of what is acceptable in gaming, but what is possible in a digital medium.
Opening in a beautifully rendered desert upon a tumbling sand dune, the player, a Bedouin/Jawa crossbreed, who finds themselves faced with a seemingly endless stretch of undulating landscape, under the glare of a blazing sun with only the ghostly haze-hidden shape of a towering cloven mountaintop as a significant landmark. With atypically few controls to utilise it’s up to the player to find their path across the desert, or at least, their own way from point to point through the several zones of play; past desert, caverns, towers and ancient ruins on their way to the inevitable destination. Aided only by a single online companion, as discussed later, and the few cloth creatures which soar and dance around the map, invigorated by the player’s “song”.
The feel and gameplay of Journey feel both eerie strange and uncannily familiar. There are visual cues which hark, sometimes obliquely, to games of the past. Whilst the motion and grace to which everything in the game adheres is clearly due to the similarities to Flower, however there are definite visual cues and influences from Ico, Shadow of the Colossus and bizarrely even Mirror’s Edge. The game itself is a joy to experience as the leaping, and sliding down dunes provides an exhilarating side of fun which is contrasted well with the darker, moodier parts of the game.
Another stand out that makes Journey a more unique experience than other titles which ask the player to participate in a digital experience as much as play a game, is the curious nature of the multiplayer aspect. Journey is formed in such a way that the player will only ever meet one other player at a time, randomly chosen from other users online at the time. Unusually in the presence of another participant, communication is only possible through the singing of musical notes of various length, which are also used to re-invigorate objects within the game world. Despite this, or indeed perhaps directly because of this, it’s all but impossible not to bond with your babelic travelling companion. In fact a change in the companion, which can be seen by the unique symbol they release when singing, led me to feel slightly crestfallen, as I had grown fond of them solely as a result of the shared experience.
While Journey is a short game, taking less than four hours to complete at a leisurely pace, it’s beauty and mystery comes from the simple truth that it tells a story simply and plainly without ever using a word, allowing the reader to experience fear, loss, joy and sadness in a microcosm of allegorical existence. Having already proven they can move us with beauty in Flower, ThatGameCompany have shown us that they can teach us about our lives with Journey.