All you’ll need to know about Journey before you start it is its name. Its name holds more information about what you can expect than you would first have thought. The word journey brings to mind something that’s grandiose, it’s not just a short trip or a plesant walk, it’s a journey. It’s something tough, something with purpose, with a definite goal to reach. Essentially a journey is something that is taxing and yet ultimately rewarding. This is exactly what you’ll find when you start up Thatgamecompany’s Journey.
You’ll be wowed from start to finish, and you’ll never question why you are moving forward towards a mountain in the distance, you’ll just do it because you feel drawn – almost compelled – to do it. Journey doesn’t tax you in the traditional sense a game would, there are no game-overs, no ways to fail, there isn’t even a difficulty curve or techniques to master. Journey becomes taxing in just one way, emotionally. Your heart will skip a beat when your surroundings become just that little bit more dangerous, you’ll feel the slow trudges up dunes and the bitter snow cold. It seems that Thatgamecompany have really succeeded in making you care about a faceless, voiceless and essentially characterless character.
They seem to have managed this through the truly wonderful mannerisms and little interactions you’ll have between your character and the environment. Your origins are a complete mystery, but you can shout and empower tapestry like creatures and scrolls to help in your journey forward, indeed when another player joins your travels you can shout to empower each other. This interaction helps you form a bond with the nameless traveller in a somewhat inexplicable way. The way that they jump and glide is also so majestic, you can only help but think that they are a wonderful selfless creature who is deserving of your admiration. Even when you aren’t touching the controller, seeing your traveller sit and meditate in the sand as it rolls over them is enough to form that caring bond that makes some of the later sections just so nerve wracking.
As with Flower, Thatgamecompany have made Journey literally the best thing to look at on the planet. Every single second of this game is a visual treat for the eyes, every scene could be taken and hung in an art gallery and not feel at all out of place. The still images here just don’t do the game justice, the flowing sands are gorgeous to eyeball, and the incredible lighting from the sun is beyond jaw dropping. It’s just impossible to find fault in its visuals. Cloth – be it in the form of your robes or the tapestry creatures that populate your travels – moves beautifully, blowing and winding gracefully or flapping wildly in harsh winds. The sand shifts as you wade through it, the wind creates ripples across its surface, as does the sound of one of your shouts. We can safely say that for the first hour of playtime you’ll just be walking around watching how things react, and staring in disbelief at just how stunning this title is. We seriously can’t say it enough.
You can’t even fault its gameplay. The controls are so painfully simple, it’d be an absolute crime if they were broken in any way. Levels feel completely free and open, and if you do wander off the correct path, a strong wind carefully guides you back to the one you should take. It’s subtle but provides a push in the correct direction that doesn’t break immersion levels in the slightest. Puzzles are all simply solved and when you have a partner along for the ride they don’t compete or aid you in solving them, you just work together to get things done. The story may not be very long, literally around the four hour mark, but if it lasted any longer it wouldn’t be as powerful. It’s a beautiful approach to gameplay that sadly isn’t seen more often, however its style of gameplay isn’t suited to most games.
If we were to put a label on it this would be an adventure game, but in all honesty there isn’t a lot of adventuring to be had. You can’t even call the puzzles puzzling as they are all solved in a rather simple way. What Journey really brings to the table is a sense of wonder, peril and ultimately, beauty. Hidden throughout are glyphs and shrines to find, but they seem to be there to add a game element to something so far removed from your traditional game. A glance at the Trophy list shows similar, an attempt to create game like elements in something so different. Ultimately, and without wanting to sound pretentious, Journey is as close to a work of art as you are likely to find in gaming; it can’t be placed neatly into a genre because it isn’t trying to adhere to any standard gaming conventions. Essentially Journey is exactly what it’s name suggests, a journey.
Final Score 5/5