Journey ReviewChris Waldron
Every so often, a title will come along that takes your perception of gaming and turns it entirely on its head, clearing away your established conventions and creating a tabula rasa like state against which all other games will be judged. Journey the latest release from 'thatgamecompany', is one such title. It flows with stylistic elegance and grace, taking an uncomplicated yet relatable concept - a journey - and delivering an experience unmatched in terms of beauty, kinship and simplicity. A true masterpiece; the closest I've played to a truly flawless game.
The gameplay approach is minimal to say the least but as they say: less is often much more. You begin with only two control options: Movement of the camera with the six-axis and movement of your character with the analogue stick. Not until a few minutes later, do you entertain an option of jumping with the x button. After finding a mysterious, yet fitting, scarf you're granted the power to jump around the sandy-wastes and maintain a short period of gliding. The scarf acts as a sort of meter for your glide; as the white glyphs on the scarf diminish so too does your ability of flight. As you progress through Journey you'll encounter shining collectibles that increase the length of your scarf, allowing you to bridge larger gaps and maintain flight for Superman-like periods.
You chronicle your journey as a Bedouin-esque nomad, finding yourself deposited into an ocean of sand stretching out as far as the eye can see. The grains and dunes are broken up with desolate remains, evidence of a civilization raised and fallen. One landmark stands out above all others: an ominous mountain, spouting a corridor of beckoning light from its peak. Somehow, you just know that this is the way to progress; a feeling you'll experience throughout your adventure. Despite presenting a wide and open world the gameplay is fairly linear. This is down to the fact that lot of work has gone into delivering subtle hints - such as ray of light or a fluttering scarf - that help you chart a course through each area. As a result, Journey maintains a perfect flow whilst at the same time displaying an expansive desert environment that will almost guarantee you'll play through the whole game in one sitting.
Journey is certainly a short game, so those going in expecting an 8-12 hour experience will be sorely disappointed. The length plays to Journey's strengths; it doesn't outstay its welcome and never gets tiresome as a result; very much like the original Portal, the length feels just right. Journey was obviously designed with the idea that the game should be completed in one sitting. It's an experience that needs to wash over you in its entirety to be truly appreciated. It's a feeling that's hard to express. Emotions are difficult to convey in words yet that's what Journey exudes: emotion. Hence any attempt to describe what exactly makes Journey so engaging ultimately falls short of what the game truly delivers. Just play it and you'll see what I mean.
One of the most compelling aspects of Journey is the immediate bonds it creates between complete strangers. Along your journey you'll encounter another player who will appear in your game world to help out with puzzles and just generally share in the experience. You have no way to communicate, and you don't even find out their name until after the game is over. Yet, the mere act of taking on an epic quest together and helping each other out with solving puzzles and finding collectibles is enough to inspire a deep camaraderie that comes to an emotional crescendo at the game's conclusion. The only means of communication is singing - controlled with the circle button - and it's interesting to witness the rudimentary language you'll forge from random button mashes.
The sights and sounds of Journey are often a true marvel to behold. The use of light and shadows will, at many points, stun the eye and present a wonderfully realised environment perfect for exploration. Despite starting in a sun-baked desert the game mixes up its environments, taking you from wind-lashed dunes to the depths of the ocean; and from the lair of terrifying monsters to the peak of a frozen mountaintop. With such diverse locations it's ensured your journey will never feel dull. It's a testament to the experience that after a two hour game it feels like you've taken the journey of a lifetime.
The music in Journey is incredible and does an amazing job of setting the pace for a grandiose adventure. One moment that stays with me is sliding down a stretching sand dune, dodging in and out of derelict arches that seemed to have formed an ancient slalom course. The classical beat was blasting as the white-hot sun loomed overhead. As I raced through the arches, trying my hardest to win an imagined race between me and my companion, my heart was racing. Then I fell. Down and down into a gaping abyss that seemed like it would never end; all the while backed by an intense soundtrack that set me smirking with aural delight.
Very rarely does a game with such remarkable features come along. It's hard to truly believe in a game that comes coupled with such widespread hype; but rest assured, Journey deserves its praise. When I try and think of a word to describe it, one word constantly pops up in my imagination: experience. Now granted, that can be open to interpretation. 'Experience' can encapsulate both good and bad, so by my definition, Journey can mean anything. Well, to me it meant a lot of things; to you it will mean a lot of things; to the majority of its customers it will mean a lot of things, so yes, Journey truly can mean anything which, if anything, goes some way to explaining its universal praise. A rare few might even go as far to say it'll appeal to you in... any way you want it.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.
Chris Waldron is an aspiring games journalist and writer, pursuing a history degree next to the sun-drenched shores of Mid-Wales. When not playing video games he can be found under a blanket with a book or trying to remember where he left his keys.
About the Author: Chris Waldron
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