System: PC, PS3, PS4 | Released: March 2012
Developer: Thatgamecompany, Santa Monica Studios | Reviewed On: PC
Works of art come in all shapes & forms and for the most part, it's all down to an individual's interpretation of a piece. Although very short, Journey stands proud as one such piece of art that has resonated throughout my very core - I can't believe I have only just come across it.
Released in 2012 for Playstation 3 - developed by Thatgamecompany & Santa Monica Studios - the game was later ported to newer-gen consoles and PC in subsequent years. Describing the plot of this game may be tricky as not much is given at all, but on the most base level, you play as a robed figure traveling the desert to a great mountain of unknown importance in search of answers or a route to amelioration. Of course, this is just a basic premise whilst its minimalistic approach breeds speculation, interpretation and induces self-reflection in a way I've never experienced before in this format.
Gameplay for Journey can be reduced to just three words, simple but adequate. there are three controls for the entire game and one of them is your directional movement. The others are the controls for igniting the mysterious living ribbons/carpets you see in the screenshot above, which is the same control for communication, and another for jumping or 'magical' flight. Having so much less in the way of controls to worry about allows you, as the player, to soak in all that the game is.
Traveling the desert, purpose unknown, you are brought quickly into the gameplay and are left to figure out what you can do in this vast and sparse landscape. Figuring out the limitations was by far the easiest thing to accomplish and forces progression via simplicity. In other words, the lack of things to do inhibits stale gameplay; probably the opposite of what you would expect reading it out loud. Instead, you just continue on through the levels ascending up through the landscape. I'm not even sure you can class it as multiple levels as the entire thing feels like one level that transforms beautifully as you progress. It brings about a fluidity that avoids any type of game-breaking experiences; no save points, no tangible level changes, no period of familiarising with controls, and no way of fully dying - to an extent. These things combined allow for continual immersion from start to finish and, of course, it helps that the game can be less than an hour long. The mechanics in-game are both fluid and visually satisfying whilst being uncomplicated and robust enough to not feel any jarring aspects.
Along the way, you randomly meet another robed figure who joins you on your blind quest and makes for a companion on your journey. At first, I was confused at the importance of the game providing me with a companion that had no influence, really, on my actual gameplay other than they were just there - you can only communicate through a magical chime that is accompanied by a symbol unique to you (likewise for the other figure) and I noticed that the character was more like an NPC with no real value. In my experience though, I found that I met others along the way as well but only ever one at a time. The next thing I noticed was how erratic the behaviors of the other figures were, which confused me some more until I found out at the end that they were, in fact, other players from somewhere else in the world, playing Journey at the same time as me. I was surprised at this information, only knowable through deduction or being told at the very end of the credits. I love the concept of it. A really beautiful touch.
The music score for this piece is nothing short of mesmerizing. It's a full swing of orchestral swells and sorrowful ambiance that builds from a fragile tail into a huge magical beast. It matches the story and play-through perfectly and you ride on its back from start to finish. I cannot speak highly enough of the composer (Austin Wintory) as he's captured my heart with this score and what he has been able to accomplish with sewing this piece to the core of the game is astounding.
Graphically, for 2012, the game projects it's picturesque landscapes beautifully and really showcases its ability to induce depth into its environments whilst not having to be graphically supreme. Not only are the environments varied and aesthetically pleasing, but they give the impression of endlessness where environment edges are not easily seen. I didn't really test how far the environment extended or if it was procedurally generated when you exit the immediate path, to an extent, but my guess is that it is limited. My point is that it's not noticeable, nor should it be, and the boundaries are blended so well.
The unique art style the developers have used is also conducive to being able to hide a lot of things, but is almost hypnotic from start to finish; unbelievably satisfying and you cannot help but take every shot in. The transitions between environments are contrasted perfectly, too, as you traverse the different landscapes and are brought fully together as one with the journey and music at the end. One single entity of absolute wonder.
Carried by the music and theme, the story is told through wordless gameplay and small cutscenes that spark intrigue and instill sentiment and awe into the player. The game, presented in this way, has an unfathomable capacity to absorb the player's mind and heart into its motion and whisk you along to the end. There's literally not much to it at all, but what it lacks in complexity it absolutely makes up for in ambiance, an incredible art style & concept, emotional scoring, and a heart-warming sense of wonder.
As a final note on this short review of Journey, I'd like to just say that this game was something else. It is the pinnacle point of what games are, in my eyes, and I have so much admiration for the development team and its associated disciplines, most notably the composer, and what they have achieved; a game that not only takes you on an enchanting Journey of enlightenment with the silent avatar to a paradisiacally perfect ending but one that engenders a profound contemplation within the player. It was an emotional ride, to say the least.
If you are intrigued by the game's premise and contextual aspects, please give my full playthrough a watch below, or play the game yourself - a SkyPunk 'Must Play' from me.