Journey: The Best Game I Have Ever Played
You’re walking. Through a wide open desert first, then through caverns, and eventually up the side of a snow covered mountain. That’s literally the entirety of Journey by ThatGameCompany summed up in two sentences. Simplicity is a virtue in gaming, with beautiful games like Braid, Limbo, and Sword and Sorcery EP embracing it with open arms. Next to a blockbuster title like Mass Effect 3, Journey looks like child’s play, yet it succeeds where Mass Effect 3 failed. With no dialogue and no text, Journey manages to evoke the human struggle in a way that no other game ever has. At that time of me writing this, it is safe for me to say that Journey is the absolute pinnacle of games as artistic expression.
Gameplay and Control
Journey is simple. You play as an unnamed character dressed in a red robe who must travel to a shining beam of light at the top of a distant mountain. There are three controls: walk, jump, and sing. Your ability to jump (more like glide) is upgraded throughout the journey as you collect orbs of glowing light. Singing has a function to, not only to communicate with other players in the game (more on this in a bit), but also to activate beacons at certain stages in the game. Journey is unconcerned with dialogue and text, and instead relies on sound and music to tell it’s story. This works incredibly well, and one of my favorite things about Journey was that it has, aside from some tutorial prompts, no interface to speak of. It is literally just the player and the game. While playing, I felt relaxed and calm, like I was doing yoga for my mind. When the credits rolled, I felt more satisfied with the experience than any game I can remember. For as simple as Journey is, it manages to reflect the human experience with precision and elegance.
Some people would probably say that Journey has no story, though I think that this neglects too much about the experience. I would argue that there is an incredible story at work here. If one were to take the actions presented in Journey and write them as narrative, it would be one hell of a ride. I’m glad no one did that, however, as the story is best told exactly how it is. One moment in particular towards the end of the game struck me as the most victorious and uplifting moment in gaming history. I don’t want to spoil too much about the journey, but I can safely say it will take you to some unexpected places and present you with some truly daunting and scary obstacles. C’est la vie.
Journey has an absolutely incredible soundtrack. ThatGameCompany knew what an important role sound would play in Journey, and the execution is flawless. With a beautiful score by Austin Wintory, the music ranges from mellow to exhilarating, from serene to dangerous. The music flows with the game, and there is no sense of “triggering” music, which sometimes detracts from an otherwise immersive experience. The sound effects stand out as well. As someone who has a slight obsession with sound design, I loved the way the sound of sand shifted beneath the weight of your character, as well as the sounds and notes created by singing along with other players and creatures in the game. As of writing this, Journey’s soundtrack is not available for purchase, but as soon as it is released, I will be listening to it as it is truly a beautiful work.
I want to start this by thanking The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker. Thank you for showing people that realistic does not always equal better. Thank you for taking a risk and choosing style over complexity. You have paved the way for some truly amazing games. It seems so ridiculous now that people were upset upon seeing your graphics for the first time. Thank you for setting an example where others would not. Journey follows your lead, and creates a beautiful world without falling into the trap of trying to be too complex. Shadows are agile and free and appear as expected. Towering structures become more clear as you get closer, highlighting the travels ahead. Animation is smooth and your character is dynamic and fluid. The standout set piece in Journey, though, is the sand. As you walk and jump over the desert, the sand reacts just as you expect it would. Later in the game, when things really start to pick up, the sand becomes a character in and of itself, creating emotion and rhythm in the environment. I never imagined I would be writing about sand in a video game, but here we are. Journey is like that. Even if it was not a game, Journey would be a beautiful piece of art worthy of any museum.
Journey has no true multi-player to speak of, so don’t expect to be running through the game with a group of friends, using voice chat to talk about how amazing the vistas are. No, Journey takes a different approach. As the game progresses, you will come across others on their journey. There is no party, there is group. You are simply passing by someone as they make their way to the mountain in the distance. You can communicate with other players by using the sing button, and there is a gameplay element to this (though I will not delve further because discovering this is part of the journey). It truly is a multiplayer system worthy of the title and several times throughout my experience I couldn’t help but wonder who it was on the other side of the controller. All I could do was sing to them, and they would sing back. It dilutes communication to single button, and it works beautifully. Almost makes me wish we could go back to grunting like cavemen (almost).
If you can’t tell, I think Journey is an incredible game. It truly engages the player from start to finish and leaves you breathless with satisfaction and understanding. Journey represents the direction we are moving when it comes to games as artistic expression, and I could not be more happy. If you have not, buy this game now. It is definitely worth your time and money.
Journey is available now exclusively on the Playstation 3 on the Playstation Network for $14.99.