An unforgettable pilgrimage through a beautiful and mesmerising landscape
Journey is an enchanting parable in which the player embarks on a daunting pilgrimage to reach the peak of a distant mountain looming on the horizon. The third title developed by, thatgamecompany, Journey presents the player with vast open landscapes and a mysterious forgotten culture to discover and understand. You will soar through the air and surf on the sands as you explore the ruins, whilst your ultimate goal, the mountaintop, haunts your every step.
You begin your journey after you awake, alone, surrounded by vast, empty desert. You control an anonymous, robed figure whose only known goal is to reach the mountaintop presented to you in the opening sequence. In this sense Journey begins life as a somewhat unusual game. The adventure begins with no real explanation to the player. You’re given no narrative background bar the presence of the mountain the character clearly wants to reach. The robed figures origins are unknown and the game features no dialogue. Only one thing is of importance and that is the journey you are about to embark on.
You could look at this in two ways. You could see this as creative freedom for you to forge your own story governed by your actions in the present, building up your own imaginative reasoning for your characters actions. Or you could see the game as absent of a narrative story and just representative of an experience, which in a ludological sense becomes a story in its own right once you finish it.
Journey tackles the disconnect of the player from a character with no narrative history by constantly driving the experience forward, engaging the player as they continue towards the inevitable destination. This sense of mystery leads to a genuine enjoyment of the unexpected, as you find yourself thrust into random encounters with the game’s wildlife and other anonymous players online. To add to this perplexing nature you are presented with no real tutorial at the beginning of the game and no waypoints mark your way throughout the journey, you are just expected to find it.
Mechanically you’ll find Journey is simplistic, yet intuitive. The robed character you control wears a flowing red scarf, which, when charged by pieces of the same material found in the environment, allows the player to glide through the air. You’ll also find various forms of wildlife throughout your journey that can be interacted with to provide the same charge that enables you to fly. The chimes you use to communicate with the creatures of the world and other online players can also transform dull pieces of similar cloth, turning them into a vibrant red, which forms the structure of the games assortment of challenges and puzzles. All these interactions are controlled through the use of two buttons with varying effects depending on the duration of the press. One is used to emit the musical chime that allows you to communicate with the world around you, whilst the other controls flight.
Journey represents an amazing achievement in terms of level design. The world naturally unfolds before you with little need for direction in achieving your ultimate goal. You’ll travel through wide open landscapes full of splendour to dark, ominous caverns and finally soar through the icy peaks of the mountain itself. This diverse and interesting scenery is presented through a visually stunning art style that has bright colours and a minimalist design.
This isn’t a solitary experience either. Along the way, you’ll meet fellow travellers with which your only form of communication is the musical chimes you can emit to effect the environment around you. Multiplayer in Journey is completely anonymous, with players temporarily aiding each other in their shared experience. The game also features a host of meaningful encounters with the world’s wildlife. These interactions feel natural and symbiotic, leaving you with a sense of something greater than the world you inhabit, on what feels like a religious pilgrimage.
One thing that adds to the overall experience Journey delivers is the impressive musical score. Composed by Austin Wintory the music reacts dynamically to the player’s actions. Things can quickly go from relaxed, as you surf the sea like desert sands carried by the wind, to terrifying, as jagged violin strings cut through the air like the lightning bolts that accompany them. Journey delivers an amazing musical score befitting of the varying and enchanting gameplay.
Essentially Journey does what it says on the tin, it provides a journey. It takes the player for a ride through a beautiful and detailed world. From deep, dark caverns to soaring peaks it never fails to entertain. It is the wonderful contrast and range of the journey that lends itself so well to being played all the way through in one sitting, as a complete experience. The only weakness revealed throughout the game is the slight disconnect experienced by the player as a consequence of the lack of narrative. The characters and the world you explore have no real narrative backstory or history and everyone you encounter is anonymous with no method of written or verbal communication between players. This can leave the game feeling impersonal in certain circumstances depending on how you choose to interpret the experience.
Overall Journey is a compelling and entertaining experience that exhibits an almost religious significance to its campaign. It successfully whisks you away to a far-off world for an enchanting, escapist pursuit shared along the way with fellow travellers and taking you through a range of emotions. The game inspires a true sense of wonderment captured in the story you create as you hurtle towards your final destination. As with any adventure though it is the journey that is important, not the destination.
*Transparency: The opinions in this review were formed off the basis of a paid for copy played on PS4.