I always find it difficult to explain Journey with words. When I first received my copy, I tried to explain to one of my friends what game I was reviewing, and sometimes words just aren’t enough. I think that is so true with Journey — you have to experience it for yourself. On that note, here is my feeble attempt to extol the virtues of this atmospheric, rousing adventure.
Developed by thatgamecompany, Journey casts players in the role of a nameless robed figure; upon waking up in the middle of the desert, I am given no instructions on my purpose in the world around me, but as I scale the first sand dune, off in the distance I spy a lonely, luminous mountain. This is your ultimate goal, and how you get there is entirely up to you.
The controls in Journey are decidedly simple. Players manipulate the camera using the SixAxis motion control, or via right analog stick. Hitting circle allows you to sing, though you’ll get different results depending on how much pressure you apply; tapping the button lets you emit short notes, while holding it down for longer result in a stronger burst. After collecting your first scarf, the X button allows you to take flight. Throughout each level are hidden glyphs that increase the length of your scarf, and therein amount of flight time available to you. Essentially, your scarf works as a kind of flight gauge; the longer the scarf, the more energy it can absorb and the longer you can sustain flight. You can charge up this item either by singing to it, or standing next to different cloth-based creatures scattered thoughout each level. There are a few other ways to charge up your scarf, but more on that later.
The scale and level design of each area is impressive. While the first few levels are rather similar in look and feel, later levels take on a whole different presence. I don’t want to really spoil the game too much, as I fear describing the variety of levels on offer would do so, but suffice to say Journey is utterly breathtaking. Multiplayer in Journey is seamless, as there is no indicator that you are now sharing your adventure with another — they are simply just there. For example, while wondering the desert in the distance I notice something different, a small dark speck in the middle of what seems like an endless ocean of sand. As I get closer I notice that the dark speck is singing just like me. Indeed, the child-like excitement of stumbling across your first wondering adventurer is amazing.
The experience is very unique to Journey in a number of ways; first of all being that there is no way of communicating with your fellow adventurer minus the aforementioned ability to sing. You don’t even know the name of the person you are playing with, as there is no name displayed and they do not show up in the Players Met section of the XMB. So figuring out ways of communicating is left solely up to you and your new friend. While I will admit this aspect of the game is a little frustrating at times, it really does fit Journey perfectly. There are a few other benefits to having a friend along for the Journey, such as the fact you can charge each other scarfs by either a burst note, or by simply rubbing against each other. In theory, I think you can achieve unlimited flight, but it would take a lot of coordination with your partner, and with no ability to communicate, it would prove exceedingly challenging to pull off. There are a few small variations in the story after completing levels with a friend, but I will leave those up to you to find out about.
Journey’s storyline itself is an emotional roller coaster. After awakening in the middle of a desert, you come across and explore ancient ruins of a lost civilization. What happened to them? Where did they go? Why am I here? These are just some of the questions Journey’s narrative presents you with. After completing each level a “ghost” reveals to you a small portion of the lost civilization’s history. I really love the way in which this is done, using a kind of picture graph storyboard. There is no voice over, or even written language; everything is told entirely in picture form. I really enjoyed this part of the game, and feel the story in a way is left up to your own interpretation. Indeed, some parts of the narrative are pretty clear, while others are a little more obscure.
All in all my time with Journey was magical, truly one of the best gaming experiences I have had in my 20+ years of gaming. The emotional aspect of the game really hit home as I was playing Journey with my six- year old daughter; as we were nearing the end of our Journey, I looked over and saw tears in her eyes. Obviously I won’t spoil the game and tell you what part of the game it was, but I think those that play the game to the end will know what part I am talking about. That for me was just unforgettable, and I found myself pushing back tears of my own to be perfectly honest. I cannot heap enough praise on the magic formula that thatgamingcompany has come up with for Journey. Almost every aspect of the game is just stunning, from the art direction to the incredible aural presentation. Someone once asked me if I would recommend this title to any type of gamer; simply put, if you miss out on Journey, you are denying yourself one the best gaming experiences on any platform to date, period.
Review by Justin Titus