More than a game, an Experience
Journey is exactly what the name describes. In every sense it is a journey. You're seeing a game type only hinted at by previous masterpieces such as Shadow of the Colossus or The Elder Scrolls. It's existed in them as one of the strongest elements but in Journey it takes full hold. And that's exploration. Not in freedom to do whatever like in Skyrim, or to go anywhere also evident in SotC. It's the essence of it. The wonder and elegance of a world that you can go about it.
Before I go any deeper, I have to say, I won't spoil the plot or the levels after the beginning, mostly because that's the best part of the game. With that said let's go straight into levels. Most of the levels have boundaries you're not focused on or are too far to find, although the second level is completely in contrast to this design by creating a wide open yet closed off expanse to explore. If you try and break it you won't end up anywhere but it's probably the weakest level in design and the best for introductions to the physics and other elements of the world. Most of the levels are designed meticulously with ever path change or scenery object being there for some reason. You'll often have your goal "an illustrious mountain" in sight. When it starts to disappear is when the game gets into the darker nature it has.
And these moments from the darkest time to the happiest point are what makes the game work so well. The music, art, animation and everything about each scene helps you cement your feelings on it. Deeper than that the game's about companionship. You don't need them to beat the game, or even get far. Sometimes they'll find you and sometimes you'll find them. But it's this sharing of experiences, that make the game great. The game has a neat mechanic(among many) that you can sing near your friend/ally/acquaintance/person to let them jump farther. This plays into the central platforming of jumping and floating, and jumping again. With a friend you can support them and they can support you. This trust and bonding creates an experience unlike any other. But in it it also takes a lot of Journey's best moments and trumps them. When you lose someone in the flow. When you're singing desperately to help or find them. When you know it's too late. Because you've shared the best moments together these moments are even greater. The ones where something goes wrong that's not scripted.
And it's because of the style that you can get so attached. Your friend is non-existent in everything but being. Only their personality shows through. I played most of my first game with a guy who wanted to find everything but was willing to lay down everything to help me. He would jump into situations I wasn't sure of. We would constantly race each other while at the same time help each other continue. It was a game, and only later did we find hardship.
this kind of experience can only exist to everyone when we throw away everything but what makes us human. It is the ultimate in acceptance and equality, and helps you focus on the moment, on the game. And again this all is really part of that Journey. Into what we think, how we perceive, how games can be made, what they are, the plot, the interaction. There's many layers you can look at it on and choosing just one is a dis justice to the game.
That said I haven't gone into the actual assets at all. The art in this game is beautiful. It's somewhat polygonal but all the layered effects from the cloth animation on your character to blowing sand and the mountain, the game can produce some wonderful visuals from this mix of almost oriental shapes and fluidity. Taking this it creates an almost Mesopotamian rendering as cultural art/history depicted through many scenes. In the cutscenes it's interesting and helps with the story, and in gameplay it's kind of odd. On top of that the score for the game(done by Austin Wintory) is wonderful. A lot of times I forget it and only remember seconds later that the music was driving the tension in the scene. There's a lot of still continuous Orchestra often driven by a Viola. But the amazing thing is how it changes into a completely different tune naturally and speedily changes the mood while coming off contextually based off what you just did or got to. The actual takes must've taken forever for all the crossovers, but when taken in to this product it feels like something it couldn't exist without. It becomes natural as the world drags on, and the actual linearity of the game helps it feel on point for emotion moment to moment.
This feels like a game that couldn't have been made by anyone else but Thatgamecompany. There's two reasons for this. The first is their design of games is less based around taking from old games but more taking concepts and evolving them into a game. Not many companies do that even in the indie space. The second reason is the budget. Funded by Sony they had three years to produce what amounts to 2 hours of moving around. No other company had both the budget and the design principles they had. And that's mostly because of Sony's move towards indi....I'll talk about that another time. With games like flOw and Flower even the concepts that seemed to draw from others were hand built to turn the idea into a game. Journey is no different, but with much bigger ambitions. It doesn't always hit that beat, often turning sections too close to games, or too far away, sometimes has sections with more thought needed. Regardless it's overall an extremely well thought out game with every little part made on purpose. It's something people should play just to see how it fits them, and something which is easy to pick up. It works well and is a great experience as well as a great game. It misses some small things, but in perspective it's worth it for what it accomplishes. With 2 hours it did what so few games do with days. Make you feel.