Journey review

By Steve Watts, Mar 07, 2012 1:00pm PST

I can't remember the last time a game hit me with the emotional resonance of Journey. While thatgamecompany's previous title Flower was certainly stirring in similar ways, and even touched on similar themes, this project is the culmination of the studio's storytelling prowess and artistic vision. It serves as a peaceful, playful, and profound experience rarely found in our industry.

From the first footsteps across the sands of the stark desert environment, Journey is visually striking. Its elegantly simple environments are each a testament to what can be accomplished through art direction. The musical score complements it perfectly throughout, ranging from whimsical to somber. I was immediately gobsmacked by its gorgeous graphical flair upon starting the game, and that beauty invites discovery and exploration. As I progressed, I found that each new area carried its own tone and mood, distinct but part of a cohesive whole.

The game itself is quiet and meditative, especially when played as a solitary experience. It only teaches a few simple controls -- two buttons and the analog stick, nothing more. This simplicity lends itself to iterative experimentation, rather than complex commands, which should feel inviting to less experienced players. It expresses the few gameplay elements with graceful, wordless contextual instruction, while subtly pointing in the right direction. The goal is clear from the beginning: reach the mountaintop. The obstacles standing in my way were never terribly difficult, but the challenge wasn't as important as the process. I wanted to learn more about this world, and see everything I could, while unraveling the plot.

That story kept me constantly invested in the world. Journey tells a vivid fable without a single line of dialogue, and the intermittent story moments were delivered in the subdued style of a silent movie. The titular journey of the lead character is a personal one that speaks to much broader concepts about civilization. Our hero isn't a human, but the story is a deeply human one. It's melancholy, joyful, somber, triumphant, and poetic, all compressed into an experience that lasts about the length of a film. It needs to be experienced personally, so I hesitate to say too much. When the game reaches its intense climax, I'm sure each player will have his own reaction and interpretation.

But the journey isn't always solitary, and it isn't meant to be. Anonymous social interaction adds a new dimension to both the game and its inherent symbolism. A brief glimpse across the sands can lead to a meeting. Communication is limited to soft musical pings, and you're never told the identity of this chance stranger. The connection can be as brief or as long as you'd like. If it doesn't last, another connection might appear later. Your first time, you might find yourself a student of a more experienced player. The second or third time, a teacher.

With a partner in tow, the journey becomes a shared pilgrimage. Two players can accomplish more together than they ever could alone. Like the story, the specialness in the social interaction should be discovered organically to grasp what makes it so meaningful. You can certainly complete the game alone, but you would miss out on the sense of wonder that comes from forming a connection, and how that informs the themes in the overall narrative.

As gamers, we often create associations between price and entertainment value, whether we mean to or not. I can imagine that some players might balk at $15 for a title that lasts only a few hours. That would be a profound mistake. Journey is an artful, transcendent game that exemplifies the best qualities of how rich and fulfilling this interactive medium can be. It is not to be missed.


[This Journey review is based on a review copy provided by thatgamecompany.]

Click here to comment...

advertisement

Comments

1 Thread | 11 Comments