Thatgamecompany, makers of critically acclaimed titles such as Flower and flOw, have done something extraordinary. The Santa Monica studio has, yet again, produced another work of gaming art. Feel free to watch the video below or continue reading the review to find out my full thoughts on Journey.
If I told you all you had to do to win this game is cross a desert and reach a mountaintop — you’d call me crazy for considering such a basic concept so captivating. The game fools you into thinking your adventure will be a simple beeline to the summit. After progressing your first few steps, you’ll quickly realize that there is a lot more to the task than meets the eye. Fighting the winds will get your face smashed into the sand and encourage you to pay more attention to your surroundings. Items like floating cloth strips will skitter past your eyes and serve as propulsion to get to the next area. The assistance of these useful environmental features will teach you the game’s most valuable lesson: ask for help.
Mute Co-op: It Works!
The true joy of Journey is felt when playing with the aid of a fellow journeyer. You cannot chat it up with your new friend, but you can alert each other with chime-like shouts. I managed to develop a system with my anonymous partner that involved a set of mayday signals. A giant shout meant we needed to regroup. If danger or secret goodies were nearby, I unleashed a burst of short repeated shouts. This simple Morse code system took away any potential anxiety of co-oping with a complete stranger.
The Story is Told by You
One may assume that Journey lacks a rich plot. A visit to each prayer shrine however reveals a subtle and delicately woven narrative. It is unclear what circumstances the protagonist has gone through prior to the beginning of the game. Some may critique that this is ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake but I believe something deeper lies within the sparse plot. It is essentially a story told by you. Whatever hardships you’ve had, times of uncertainty, or moments of triumph – the game takes you through each of them with grace and elegance.
Uplifting Musical Score
Much of the game is experienced through the intensity of its sound and music. With that said – Journey would not be Journey without the stellar musical score by Austin Wintory. The dizzying strings and synths compliment the whistling desert winds so well. Whether hopeful tidings are in sight or all seems lost, each note reflects the tone of the moment beautifully. Anyone could sit back, listen to this soundtrack, and love it.
Occasionally the game can be taxing in its harshness and can slow down to a crawl. If your scarf is out of cloth strips and you miss a crucial jump, you could come crashing right back down to earth. An especially reoccurring frustration is the “wind smackdown.” It’ll take a couple tries before you realize which areas are impossible to cross due to such gales. These moments of angst are few in number and you will soon forget them once you start surfing across the desert dunes again.
Ever since I started playing Journey I’ve been asked if it feels like the quintessential hipster game. Stamping this game with such a label couldn’t be more wrong. Journey is an odyssey of emotions and a whirlwind of experience. There’s no need to memorize the Dao in order to enjoy it. Journey is a game truly meant for everyone.