As the world of gaming has grown over the last 10 years, it seems to be harder and harder to find something new. There are new spins on old ideas and genres but very few developers out there have the stones to try something truly original in today’s fragile economy. Luckily for us the guys over at ThatGameCompany are willing and more than capable. Their first two outings (Fl0w and Flower) were proof that many of the industry’s stereotypes are not required in order to make a wonderful gaming experience. Their latest offering, Journey, is not only further proof of this, but it also succeeds in being one of the most beautiful and unforgettable games I have ever played.
Right from the offset Journey is wonderfully different. It does away with many elements that we have become used to in our gaming comfort zones. There is no over-the-top opening, no guns or gadgets, no combat and perhaps most interestingly of all, no dialogue throughout. Your goal (as you take control of the silent, mysterious figure that is Journey’s protagonist) is simple. You must travel across an expansive 3D landscape to reach the top of a distant mountain.
Like many great games the premise is simple and your goal never changes. However the way in which you perceive that goal and what it means will certainly alter before your Journey is over. Not wanting to give too much away, I will simply say that Journey’s story is a compelling fable that unfolds at near perfect pace. It is a real testament to the developers that they have been able to tell such a gripping and original tale without the use of dialogue. On top of this, Journey’s conclusion will leave you feeling genuinely moved and make you realise that video games can still be experiences that you never forget.
Considering Journey is so basic from a conceptual standpoint, the gameplay is beautifully crafted. There are no levels to grind, quests to complete or enemies to kill. There is no HUD of any kind. Your nameless traveller can move, chime a single note and glide for a limited time. This time is determined by the length of your scarf, which can be increased in certain ways and also ripped back to its lesser form by some of the dangers that will try and halt you as you progress. All these mechanics are perfectly balanced and are never cumbersome or a chore to use.
As you glide, slide and trek through Journey’s breathtaking landscape, you will meet many creatures and explore many wondrous places. The design, graphics and art direction are truly incredible and are all contributors to one of the most immersive worlds ever created in the video game medium.
Another awesome feature is the casual co-op system. If you happen to be signed into the PSN at any point during your play through you will more than likely meet other travellers along the way. The most refreshing aspect of this system is the lack of voice chat or messaging. In fact you wont even find out the PSN names of the other travellers you have met until you reach the game’s conclusion. Although this may sound strange it is actually an amazing piece of design and fits perfectly with Journey’s tone. You don’t need to know whom you are travelling with; you just need to know you are both trying to reach the same place. I have played through Journey many times now and never with the same companions. Strange as it sounds, it is an incredibly liberating feeling to share such a deep experience with a complete stranger and serves the fundamentals of the co-op dynamic without tainting the game’s powerful message.
If there is one undeniable chink in Journey’s armour it’s the game’s length. If you decide not to explore too much then you will beat the game in less than 2 hours, which is sure to be too short for some. Having said this, Journey’s story is paced so well that you never feel cheated by its length or ending. The experience is a short one by design therefore any longer would have (strangely) felt too long. However don’t let this worry you too much. With tonnes of optional exploration, a decent Trophy list and plenty of replay value you will undoubtedly get your monies worth out of this PSN exclusive.
If there was ever a game deserving of the word beautiful in it’s description, it’s Journey. The game is stunning to look at, satisfying to play and oozes atmosphere from every angle of its dynamic story and immersive world. Sure it’s short by regular game standards but Journey is not a regular game. If your ready for an experience that will surprise you, move you and stick with you for many years after its done, then maybe this is the Journey for you.