Is Journey a game or an experience? Probably the best way to describe it is a game that must be experienced. From the moment you see the scorching grains of sand, and the musical score kicks in, something triggers inside of you that tells you Journey is going to be something special.
Taking control of a robed figure in the desert, all you need to know, and you will know instinctively, is to head towards the brilliant light emanating from a mountain in the far distance. Turn off your phone and chase anyone who doesn’t need to be around, because although you can probably complete the entire game in 90 minutes, it will be 90 minutes that commands, and deserves, your full attention.
Many people have been judgemental of the lack of depth Journey offers, but that is not what Journey is about. If you treat the gameplay as a path through the emotional experience, then it serves its purpose just fine. The controls are nice and smooth, and the interaction with the environment is beautiful.
In addition to basic running around in 3rd person, you have expendable flight ability, denoted by a diminishing scarf flowing from the player. The player also has the ability to shout a small variety of chord-like chirps which occasionally serve a purpose, but more than likely you will be chirping to keep your morale up.
Journey’s strong point is its minimalistic approach to storytelling. There is no dialogue, and what few cut-scenes exist, serve mostly as establishing shots, exposition is kept mainly to uncovering glowing glyphs carved into stone, and the occasional cut-scene depicting a tapestry of sorts.
Just like previous thatgamecompany titles, Flower, flOw and Cloud, Journey was developed with the explicit intention of evoking emotion. Unlike their previous releases, Journey actually achieved what had been intended, more than even thatgamecompany hoped for. The exact setting of Journey is ambiguous, some say it is a religious experience, but regardless if you ever have ups and downs in your life, I challenge you to not be touched by this game. I have heard from gamers who have been through a tough time that playing Journey gave them some much needed therapy.
By the time you have reached the final level and the musical score reaches a crescendo, you will have goose bumps, and by the time the end credits roll, you will be a blubbering wreck.
I have already mentioned the strong contribution the musical score makes to Journey, but special mention must be made about the use of sound effects, which really help everything come together and strengthen the believability of Journey.
Journey does not need multiplayer. Many games do not need multiplayer, but it is bolted on in some form, for better or worse. Thankfully, Journey bolted it on for better. You may play through the entire game without meeting another player, or you may meet numerous players. If you do encounter another player, you will likely feel a sense of hope; that you are not totally alone in this barren wasteland. That a total stranger is going through the same emotions as you, at the same time. You cannot chat to, or otherwise communicate with other players, with the exception of using your aforementioned chirps as a primitive language and hope that your intentions are clear. (Some players have even developed their own Morse code style of communication).
When you complete the game, the names of the players you encountered will be revealed to you, so you can send a friend request if you wish. Chances are you will befriend some players, as you will have formed a bond with them more in a brief encounter, than you will after a thousand headshots in Call of Duty (Not a criticism of FPS games, just a reiteration of Journey’s emotional power).
What didn’t work
For all intents and purposes, there is very little that didn’t work in Journey, with the exception of the obligatory bolt-on sixaxis control, which thankfully you are not forced to use.
If you are looking for a fast paced game, or like your story telling in the style of Space Marine (TM) banter, then you probably won’t get much out of playing Journey. However, if you want to experience something a little different, something that will challenge your emotions a bit deeper that choosing to save character A or character B, you will be more than satisfied with the short but deep Journey.
If you are a game developer, then Journey is a shining example of bare-bones storytelling and pacing, and how its less-is-more approach does an excellent job of finding its way into the player’s deeper psyche.