A journey worth taking.
Journey represents thatgamecompany’s most ambitious project to date, an intensely cinematic experience, which propels players through an ever-changing kaleidoscope of ambience and mood. The game tells the story of a red-robed avatar who must, for reasons unexplained, undertake a pilgrimage to a faraway light-adorned peak, so vast and bright, that it can be seen from the voyage’s outset in the low desert valleys.Players control the adventure using another of thatgamecompany’s trademark minimalist control schemes, moving the character and camera with the analogue sticks and jumping with the Cross button. The camera may also be controlled using the Playstation’s Six-Axis sensors; these allow players to rotate the camera around the character by tilting the controller. Pressing the Circle button prompts your character to let out a chirp, along with a hieroglyph-like symbol. This forms the basis of the limited communication and interaction which your avatar has with the world. Tapping produces a quick, quiet chirp, while holding the button down will unleash a longer and louder cry, not dissimilar to an eagle’s scream.
These vocalisations seem largely pointless at first, especially as you start your journey in an empty-looking desert, but as soon as you begin to follow the totem-like markers left in the sand, you realise that the landscape around you is strewn with ancient ruins and other long-forgotten remains. It’s around this time that you might meet another traveller, dressed in the same red robes as your own character. It’s at this point that a realisation hits you: unlike other games with a multiplayer component, you have no direct way of communicating with the other player. Instead that previously extraneous chirping becomes the only means of communication between the two player avatars. Players will find themselves running side-by-side with their new companion, calling and chirping to each other constantly in order to signify anything from “Come here!” to simply echoing each other's calls, as they explore the world. It forms a umbilical link between the two characters, each excited chirp an encouraging gesture to continue onwards in their quest. The calls not only serve to unite the players, but also allow them to interact with various elements of the world. Chirping at caged, shoal-like gatherings of red cloth will spur them into balletic pirouettes around the sky and will also recharge their capes, allowing them to jump higher and further than before.
With these tools in hand, the players will travel through a world which transforms seamlessly from baking hot deserts to cold, dark caverns and beyond. thatgamecompany’s eye for the cinematic becomes obvious as the camera subtly shifts perspective through each environment, always focusing on the most visually arresting scene. Each new environment conveys a different and unique feel. The undulating sand dunes of the desert feel warm and envelop the player in a rich, golden-yellow colour palette, while the later sections eschew direct light altogether in favour of cool, blue darkness, punctuated only by occasional shafts of light from the cavern ceilings. Although the game world feels endless and unbounded, the game actually takes place on a linear path, but it is to the developer’s credit that these boundaries never feel too restricting. Wandering too close to the edge of the playing space while out in the desert will see the player blown back on-course by a strong gust of wind, and the later environments have their own subtle boundaries with which to funnel and focus player movement.
The story of Journey is not told directly, but instead conveyed through the artifacts you find in the world, such as murals on walls and through short visions or dreams which you experience at regular intervals along the way. The elements of the game are never proscribed, but rather pieced together by player experience and experimentation. Journey gives the players an enticing space to explore and slowly drip-feeds them an excuse to keep going; whether it's a strange form of life made out of the same material that forms your own robe, or a sudden change of scenery, you never feel as if you’re being led down a plot line, but rather along an overgrown garden path, strewn with remnants of civilisations and settlements long gone.
Journey is not a game that focuses on learned skills or technique. Instead, it provides an experience, one that is rarely afforded to players. It allows you the freedom to explore this strange and beguiling world at your own pace, free from time constraints or forced objectives, in order to eventually reach your journey’s end. It shows a confidence in thatgamecompany’s design, and one that is thoroughly justified. I never felt bored or even close to it. Instead I was endlessly drawn onwards by my desire to see what was around the corner, always hoping to meet more travellers along the way.
Journey manages to create a rich, memorable experience, one that manages not only to entice, but to utterly satisfy the player by its conclusion, something very rarely seen in video games. For this reason alone, it’s worth playing.