There are no gaudy explosions, no zippy one-liners, no
grandiose set-pieces. And it’s all over in around two hours. But Journey is one
of the longest games we’ve played in quite a while. And that’s a rare
Journey is long because it’s long-lasting. It’s a game that we will remember for years to come –
one whose themes and imagery have already embedded themselves deep in our
psyche. We remember, more than anything, how we felt after completing each
chapter, and we recall (with fondness, melancholy and joy) our sense of
accomplishment at finishing this singular quest.
In short, Journey succeeds because it takes so many of the
conventions of contemporary games and turns them on their heads.
Journey’s story is deceptively simple: It’s told with no
dialogue (though we began to analyze its many symbols after we completed it). We
begin as a robed humanoid creature in the middle of a rolling desert. Almost
immediately we saw our objective: a shining beacon of light atop a mountain.
Thatgamecompany, Journey’s developer, is now well-known for
producing titles that encourage a sense of awe and bliss through self-guided
discovery. And just like Flow and Flower before it, Journey put us in the midst
of wilderness and gave us just enough tools to poke and prod around it until we
slowly formed an idea of how to navigate. We have a button that functions as a
beacon. It takes little time to understand how useful the beacon is to
unlocking the other crucial ability, that of jumping. These simple features
beget even larger ones as we continued playing, since players can jump and
glide only for a limited time.
By the time we navigated through Journey’s initial sections,
we felt just familiar enough with its controls to play alongside another
wanderer. And that’s when it happened to us: another wanderer (just one)
appeared in the distance. The game’s approach to co-op gameplay is utterly unique.
When another player appears – seemingly at random, and at different points in
any playthrough – all we have to work with is the limited vocabulary of the
game. We had no idea who that person is until we completed our Journey – there
is no PSN ID indicator, nor any voice chat. Our only communication is via the beacon,
or by jumping around, or however else we choose to try to reach out to our
fellow wanderer. And if we choose, we can simply ignore each other and wander
off in different directions. The best part: it’s almost impossible to grief
your partner, because the game is designed so that the limited resources can’t
be hogged or stolen from each other.
By the end of the game, we felt an amazing sense of accomplishment
and – dare we say it – affectionate camaraderie for our fellow traveler. We
helped each other through some tough challenges. We communicated via a language
we created ourselves: a series of chirps and jumps and circling around each
other. Thatgamecompany should be applauded for the incredible technical
achievement of subversively giving us a warm, human connection by providing the
most anonymous gameplay experience in some time.
Journey works so wonderfully because it has the courage to
restrict elements that we’ve come to take for granted in other games. One can
make a granular argument that it’s a game that consists of jumping and Morse
Code. And while that person would be right, that person is also missing the
point and playing the wrong game. The execution on these simple gameplay ideas is
so exact and precise that it’s ultimately more than sufficient to keep us in
its thrall up until the heart-wrenching finale. Indeed, we didn’t need anything
other than that which was provided for our Journey. It also helps that the
soundtrack truly augments both the emotion and, at points, the tension of the
experience. It’s an outstanding score.
Caveats here are minor. Journey is a calming, relaxing game,
so you might not want to start it late at night, lest you find yourself a tad
too hypnotized and dozing off with controller in-hand. However, by the time you
stumble upon a co-op partner, you’ll have the pressure of co-dependency to keep
you engaged and alert. Also, like other Thatgamecompany titles, it’s an
experience that’s at its best in the first playthrough, because the magic comes
through discovery. We plan to play it again, but armed with the knowledge of
what’s to come, it won’t be quite the same. Don’t let that stop you from
playing it, though. There’s new magic to be discovered as we find new partners
to join us on this trip.
Journey is an unforgettable experience. Even when the
details fade, the emotions that it evoked will stay with us for years. The
pacing, the sense of scale, and the feeling of awe are all razor sharp. It all
merged together as we discovered another player in our traversal. We won’t play
another game like it, and frankly, we won’t need to, either. If you’re a gamer,
it’s an outstanding reminder of why love this medium. Do not hesitate to