Journey is both the name and the aim of this game. Developed by acclaimed studio Thatgamecompany, Journey is yet another masterpiece that will stand out among this years releases not just for being one of the best games of the year, but for being one of the most innovative and moving.
Who are you? What’s at the top of that mountain? How did I get here? They are the three questions you will be asking the second the game starts up. You’re in the middle of the desert with nothing but sand surrounding you. No other forms of life and no structures to indicate there ever was. The goal is simple. Get to the top of the mountain. It’s a jarringly simple goal in this age of side quests and “witty” side characters. The fact that you are initially alone draws you in to the environment as there are no distractions. You just have a chance to appreciate the atmosphere and admire the wonderful soundtrack.
Aside from the movement and camera there are only two buttons used in the entire game, one to “interact” and one to fly. The simplicity is one of its greatest strengths because instead of focusing on attacking enemies, solving puzzles, pixel-perfect platforming or levelling up your character you can sit back, relax and immerse yourself in the world you are presented with.
As I said at the start of the review it’s an incredibly moving game and the way in which you get emotionally invested is unlike any other game I’ve ever played. I like Solid Snake and was interested in his story. I grew attached to the characters in Psychonauts. In Journey I didn’t feel attached in any way to the nameless, voiceless protagonist, at least not in the traditional sense.
In other games I feel sympathetic to the characters, but I can’t actually relate to them. Journey made me feel genuine emotion, not on behalf of the character but actually my own emotions. The game has a very basic online feature in which you can be joined by a companion. Once again, Thatgamecompany breaks tradition and doesn’t provide you with a lobby to arrange a trip with your best friend. Instead it will just drop another character in to your world from another game. You don’t know who this person is, you have no way of communicating and you can’t really interact. You both have the same goal though, and it’s just nice to have company. When one of my companions left his game near the end of the game there was a genuine touch of sadness. I will never see this person again, and yet it felt as though we bonded on a basic, human level. How many games can claim to do that?
Continuing on the emotional aspect of the game we have the ending. Obviously I won’t say what happens, but it’s breathtaking. No amount of tedious description or hyperbole can do justice to just how spectacular the ending is. I completed the game three times in one day and it still packed a punch each time.
Do I have any criticism of this game? No. As I just said I completed it three times in one day. Is that really a bad thing though? If it was too long it would ruin the game, and that fact I wanted to play it again is clearly a testament to the quality of the experience.
The game won’t be for everybody, and that’s a real shame, but I’m happy to know that the game is doing well critically and commercially. Thatgamecompany only had a three game contract with Sony, but I hope that gets extended because it was nice to have a truly unique experience thrown in to mix things up and make me glad that I continue to be a gamer. It’s been three years since Flower, and that game still sticks in my mind. I get the feeling that Journey will be hanging around in my mind a lot longer than that.