Thatgamecompany, makers of critically acclaimed titles such as Flower and flOw, have done something quite extraordinary. The small Santa Monica studio have produced yet another remarkable work of gaming art. Feel free to watch the video or continue reading the review below to hear my 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 mad for considering such a basic concept so captivating. The game fools you into thinking that your adventure will merely 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. Things like floating cloth pieces will skitter past your eyes and serve as propulsion to get to the next area. It is due to the assistance of these useful environmental features that you learn 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. No, you cannot chat it up with your newfound 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 or direction signals. A giant shout was meant for times when we needed to regroup. If danger or secret goodies were nearby, I unleashed a series of short repeated shouts. I would go so far as to say the fact that the game lacks a chat system — takes away the social anxiety of co-oping with complete and total strangers.
The Story is Told by You
At first glance, 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 say this is just ambiguity for ambiguity’s sake but I believe something deeper lies within the sparse plot. It essentially is a story told by you. Whatever hardships you’ve had, times of uncertainty, or moments of triumph – the game beautifully takes you through each of them with grace and elegance. Being a faceless veiled wanderer further confirms the universality of this character and allows anyone to relate to this cute little guy or gal.
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 musical genius of 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. A non-gamer could sit back, listen to the soundtrack, and enjoy it.
Occasionally the game can be taxing in its harshness and the pacing can slow down to a crawl. Missing a crucial jump can mean crashing down to earth if your scarf is out of cloth pieces. 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 dunes again.
Ever since I started playing Journey I’ve been asked if it feels like the quintessential hipster game. Stamping this game with that label couldn’t be more wrong. Journey is an odyssey of emotions and a whirlwind of experience that all can enjoy. There’s no need to memorize the Dao in order to understand it. Journey is a game truly meant for everyone.