Let me begin by saying this; If you are a fan of linear, descriptive story telling where things are explained and a solution is found at the end, Journey is not for you and as much as I will try and convince you to, I would recommend against it.
For the rest of you, let’s start from the basics. Journey is a game developed by the minds behind Flow and Flower at thatgamecompany, an appropriate name considering they are well known for games with deeper meanings that get mixed reactions from the gaming community.
Journey begins with you as a little creature wearing a big robe, walking in the sand towards a mountain with a beam of light coming out of it. The ‘point’ of the game, is, as such to get to the mountain by overcoming obstacles, solving puzzles and using your powers of floating and a cry that can cause a small or big change to the environment depending on the size.
You’re walking about in a very beautiful world that is laden with subtle details to build the atmosphere. The sand parts to the side as you move through it, the wind blows causing objects to be moved around and the lighting gives chambers you enter an eerie effect when the sunlight shines through them. It comes together to make an experience surprisingly moody for something that is dialogue free that also becomes surprisingly deep and meaningful as the game progresses.
Despite these factors, there are still rooted game-like elements. You gain a long scarf that is treated as your power meter for the floating and your life bar as it cuts away from the damage you take. There are powerups to boost your life scarf, thus your power meter too and you can use various things in the environment. As the game goes on, though, it’s less about that and more about travelling and survival in the harsh landscape and finding out bits and pieces on what happened to your fellow creatures leading up to Journey.
What really blew me away about Journey, and its strongest feature by far, is the online play. I had no idea what it meant when I was signing onto the terms and conditions, stat monitering I persumed, but as it turns out, another human controlled creature comes into your game depending on where you and they are at the time, helping you with puzzles and able to grow back your lost power if you stand close enough to one another.That doesn’t sound different from other games, sure, but it’s the way it is done that makes it so engaging. You don’t have any small boxes asking you if they want to come into your game or any qualifications about what that means, they just come into your game and cooperate with you. At the end, it even tells you all the people you met up with during the game which, in my first playthrough, was eight. Eight people had joined me and it really solidified the emotional investment I already had.
That emotional investment was a big factor, especially considering what the game does not give you to know and relate to the situation. “It is hard to explain and go into what happened to me during it and what I saw but there was something joyful and satisfying to it so it really felt like I was accomplishing something important when I finally reached the climax. Part of it has to do with the soundtrack and another part of it is the small, subtle acts of world building and how much you have followed this character to get to where he needs to go.
As was mentioned at the start of the review, this is not for people who expect linear storytelling and everything explained to them. This is very much a person by person experience on what they get out of it. For me, what I got out of it was an experience that enriched me, made me think about how life has been and the experiences I’ve had. I met people along the way who have lasted some time in my journey and some who have not and those who made the biggest impact will be the ones that helped the most. Call that view cheesy but that’s what it did personally. Every person who buys this so things like ‘Is it worth the amount of money I spent on it?’ depends from person to person. What I will say is that you should go into it with an open mind, try to get something more out of it then standard game critiques. Not to say it is above that, but it tries things differently enough to not be placed in a box with others.
Journey is something to be experienced at least once. Its beautiful surroundings, its great soundtrack and unfolding story is a joy to behold and has a surprising amount of emotional investment for the amount of things it actually tells you. Whether it’ll hold up as a great game by the end of 2012 is a discussion that won’t happen for a while but what can be said right now is that Journey is something very special and something that’ll stick with you until then.
Journey is out this week on Playstation Network for $14.99/1200 Yen/UK Price & EU Price to be confirmed