When I first began writing this review, I was originally going to stick with my usual method, breaking the various components of the game down into their strengths & weaknesses & assigning a score to each. However, after finally having the chance to really play Journey & soak in the experience, I feel that doing so would be a disservice to the game. The game is excellent in all areas, from the stunning visuals, stirring music & simple gameplay. However, after giving it much though, I feel that breaking the game apart wouldn’t convey the impact Journey had on me.
Journey is, beyond the shadow of a doubt, one of the most beautiful games I’ve ever played.
And that is not merely a statement about the aesthetic aspects of it. Anyone who’s seen the game could attest to that. Visually, it’s stunning. While not on par with the ultra-realistic graphics developers seem to be obsessed with nowadays, the game has a very appealing style. The designs of the characters & environments are simple & elegant. I think, for me, the biggest impact comes from the lighting, colors & physics. The colors chosen for the environments are stark & striking, highlighted by stellar light direction. I love the way the light makes the sand look, giving it this shining, almost liquid appearance. The way the Travelers’ robes move, the scarf tangling & swirling behind, kicking up sand & snow… it makes everything feel warm & personable.
The music is similarly stunning. It always fits the mood perfectly. Winds flutter like butterflies mimicking your excitement as you slid down a golden river or sand. Strings swell dramatically before slowing into a somber note. It’s beautiful. And clearly I wasn’t the only one who thought so, as you can purchase the soundtrack separately.
But the presentation is just that. Presentation. Important though it may be, it’s merely the decoration. The gilding on a monument, if you will. It’s the story that is, at its heart, the focus of the game. Everything else exists to enhance the story thatgamecompany wanted to tell.
And on the surface, it’s a serviceable enough story. The Traveler is on a journey to the mountain, uncovering the past of their destroyed culture along the way through murals & strange encounters with a white being. We learn of how everything was peaceful until something severed among the people, & they lost their powers of magical cloth. As with most civilizations, this led to civil war between them, until the culture was destroyed & only ruins remain, buried under centuries of sand. The themes are almost metaphysical, as in the end it’s interpretable as to how the Traveler’s journey ends. It hints are ideas of rebirth & almost a sort of collective unconscious.
All these traits on the surface make for an enjoyable gaming experience. But it wasn’t until I played through the game a second time that I truly understood what thatgamecompany was getting at.
It’s not the story, the destination, or even the goal that matters — it’s the journey.
Now that may seem like a no-brainer as that’s the game’s very title. But it wasn’t until I had experienced the journey a second time that I realized every aspect of the game was intended to facilitate this idea. Every trip to the summit, while following the same path, plays out different because of the human element.
Let me describe my experiences to illustrate the point I’m trying to make:
My first playthrough, I met a companion in the desert & we traveled the road together. I could tell by the fancier embroidery on their robe than mine that they’d made the journey before, & they helped guide me along the way. We worked together to overcome the obstacles. During the ascent to the summit, they led the way while I made sure to keep the cold at bay. I was happy to see them on the other side, & we walked into the light together, with them leading the way.
My second playthrough, I was more interested in finding things I’d missed the first time around, so I mostly ignored those I met in the desert. Until I met a first-time traveler (again, I could tell by the embroidery), & I decided to help them through the journey. Again, we worked together as I tried to show them where some of the more hidden things were even as I searched for them myself. As we began our ascent up the mountain, things went well… until they abandoned me, ignoring my prods to get back to cover, resulting in me getting attacked. So after they leaf me for dead, I resolutely carried on without them & stalwartly ignored the people I met on the other side, walking into the light on my own.
My third playthrough I met my traveling companion as an equal (both in white robes) & we actually communicated with each other. Strangely, it wasn’t too hard to “talk” because our actions suggested what we wanted to do. For example, when I noticed they didn’t unlock all the ribbons on rebuild the bridge in the desert before trying to cross, I knew they were after the Threshold trophy, so we worked together. After a few failed attempts, we timed our jumps so that our presence with each other in the air renewed our scarfs until we crossed the gap without the ribbons. This trend continued as we chirped for attention, calling the other to follow to the next hidden thing the other was missing. We didn’t abandon each other in our struggles, but waited & encouraged. I felt scared for my friend when we got attacked by the guardians on the summit from underground. In the end, we walked into the light side-by-side.
Each journey through Journey is its own story. Each experience facilitates different interactions with companions & gives each playthrough a different feel. Your actions dictate your feelings towards your companion(s). I didn’t even know who these people were until the very end, yet I felt attached to some of them, while other were just in the background & some I loathed. Thatgamecompany achieved this all without a single piece of dialogue, spoken or written. It is all through the presentation & letting players mold the experience.
That is why I call this game brilliant. It is a masterpiece. A work of art that you play. Every person who calls themself a gamer should play Journey. If you don’t own a PS3 or 4, find someone who does. In fact, I think every person should play this game, & experience the journey themselves.
Console: PS3 & PS4
Release Date: March 13, 2012