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Journey – Review
Publisher(s): Sony Computer Entertainment
Much like Flower before it, Journey is moving poetry. The sands shift, the heat makes it looks like a great ocean, while you guide a simple robed character through the vast openness. A mountain looms in the distance, your goal, although you’re never specifically told that in words. The lack of a spoken narrative is part of what makes Journey so incredible. To be able to convey so much with so little is a true masterwork and yet another example of games being art in many ways.
You take control of an unnamed and shrouded person. Their back story is a complete mystery, everything about them is shrouded. Even the gender of this mysterious desert dweller is obscured, although it might be easy to assume that your character is female just from her movements and the grace with which she navigates the sands. The amount of actions you can take are limited. You can jump, holding down the button to glide gracefully, or you can emit a sonar like sound that serves many functions. Both of these abilities are tied directly to the scarf you wear. As you progress and collect glowing white runes, left behind by some great civilization, your scarf gets longer. It glows with these same runes which are used up as you jump. Using your “voice” does not take up any of your magical scarf’s power but the radius of the sound does get smaller as your power diminishes. Refilling this power takes on the form of collecting floating pieces of fabric all throughout the world which you will automatically absorb should you need a refill and you’re close enough to do so.
That is it. It sums up the gameplay for the entire game. You explore your environment to a degree, solving simple puzzles with those two actions as you progress toward your ultimate goal of making it to that mountain top. There is only one type of foe in the game for you to fear, who is made more frightening by your own helplessness against it, that doesn’t make an appearance until you’ve almost completed your task.
Therein lies the true brilliance of what Thatgamecompany has done. Through subtle use of haunting music, simplistic but fluid visuals, basic gameplay, and silent cut scenes that tell the story in small pieces they have somehow managed to craft an engrossing tale. One in which you begin to really care for this silent protagonist even though you are nameless and faceless. A story which brings out your emotions in ways that few games are able to do with even the best of writing. There is nothing complicated about Journey in itself but still, somehow, it makes you love it. Even the multiplayer aspect is subtle. Through your game, you might run across another shrouded character. There is no communication between the two of you, outside of your sonar like song which can be used to find the other person should you get separated. So subtle is this multiplayer aspect, that I did not realize these other figures were actually people until the end of the game where it tells you which players you have met on your way. After the credits roll, you can play again. Each time, your robes get more elaborate and on my second play-through I met with a wanderer who would write messages in the sands.
I could spend more time talking about the technical aspects of Journey. I could tell you that it isn’t perfect but, in its own way, it is. It doesn’t have high budget visuals or an epic sweeping score. It doesn’t have flashy multiplayer or incredible monsters to slay. It places focus on telling a story as simply as possible and by doing that it leaves you stunned, longing to know more about this strange world. Journey is, by far, one of the most beautiful and amazing Journeys I have taken indeed.