Review: thatgamecompany’s Journey

Let me first just get it out of the way – Journey is one of the most beautiful and intriguing games I’ve had the pleasure of experiencing.

I am quite picky with the games I choose to play.  Even though I’d like to, realistically I just don’t have the time to play anything and everything.  I usually go for games that have a great story to tell with engaging characters in an immersive world, and one which I can have an emotional connection with.  I am also a big supporter of game developers who love to challenge themselves and the medium; ones who are not afraid to push the envelope and break some boundaries in order to create something new and exciting, not just another “cookie cutter” game.

Journey is definitely more of an experience than it is a game.  It does not have the conventional gaming features you would typically associate with games; there is no melee or gunplay and there are no scores or lives either.

The premise is simple: you play a faceless traveler who is on a journey.  You don’t know where you are, how you got there or why you are on this journey but once it starts you instinctively know you need to be heading towards that beacon of light on a mountain in the distance.  It is never made clear who you are, where you have come from or even WHAT you are.  Normally withholding that kind of information would be frowned upon as a player needs some level of back story to be emotionally invested and able to make sense of the world but in the case of Journey, it somehow just works.

That’s the magic of this game, in my opinion – everything is stripped back to the bare minimum but yet still manages to be beautifully complex and surprisingly engaging.  Gameplay is minimalistic and narrative is virtually non-existent so all you’re left with is this immense endless landscape before you to enjoy and explore.  Walking, “speaking” and leaping are the three actions that you employ throughout the duration of your journey; all mesh and work together in harmony as you tread the land towards your destination.  You are basically left to your own devices – there is very little in the way of guidance or help prompts but with a little exploring, keen observation and experimentation, the solution is usually never too far away.

 

The isolation for me was strangely comforting.  Even though the character you play is faceless and devoid of personality, as you traverse the land, you oddly start to forge a connection with this mysterious cloaked figure.  The moments that I particularly enjoyed which I found to be so freeing were the times you “surf” across the glittering ocean of sand and glide seamlessly across bridges made of shimmering cloth.

What I thought was a really interesting addition to the experience was the unique and clever incorporation of  “multiplayer” into the gameplay.  I say that with inverted commas because it really isn’t what you would expect.  Along the way you get randomly connected with another traveler who is not an NPC but actually another player who is playing the game too – you can then choose to travel the rest of the way together or you can completely ignore them and do your own thing; there is no right or wrong way.

It really adds a different dynamic to the journey, particularly because there is no way to actually communicate with this other player.  In fact you don’t even get to find out who you played alongside with until the end.

The most amazing thing about this game above all else is the stunning visuals.  Coming in at a very close second is the incredible score that just perfectly complements what’s on screen.  Many reviews have said this and I am about to echo them – Journey is hands down one of the most gorgeous games out there today.  The world is absolutely breathtaking with its glittering sands, glorious rays of sunlight and spectacular landscapes that stretch out as far as the eye can see.  Everything you see, every frame, just looks like a moving painting.

You also get to witness the dark side of the land.  There are portions of the journey where you will experience firsthand how harsh and treacherous the landscape can also be.  Consequently the music seamlessly switches to more jarring and threatening tones to match the change in atmosphere.  I thought this contrast was a good way to not only showcase two different color palettes and visual styles but also to help keep things well-paced and interesting.

I did come across a bug near the end of the game (I got stuck outside the map TWICE) which unfortunately did put a bit of a damper on the experience but apart from that my only other negatives are that there weren’t enough save points and that it could have possibly been a wee bit longer.

All in all, Journey was just a moving and exhilarating experience set in an utterly beautiful and magnificent world.  Don’t let the “artsy fartsy”-ness of the game scare you away or fool you; Journey is very much “no frills gaming” – it is simply all about well, the journey.  It’s about being curious and exploring the world around you and just embracing whatever that comes your way.

I have intentionally not been too specific about the game mechanics and how they play out in your travels because I believe part of the magic is figuring it out for yourself.  And trust me, when you finally do make it to that shining summit, the pay-off and what you had to do to get there is well worth it.

If you have a PS3 and have not yet had the pleasure of experiencing Journey, get onto the PSN right this minute and get downloading – this is a definite must play for all gamers who enjoy something a little different.

Whimsical Banana rates Journey: 4/5 bananas (would have gotten 5 if it weren’t for that bug…)

Well done and big kudos to the team at thatgamecompany for this impressive work of art!  Muchos respect!

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