You might be looking at the score down below and asking yourself how can a release that runs for a mere few hours, skirting the boundaries of what a videogame actually is garner such high marks that it’s a hop, skip and a jump away from the likes of Batman: Arkham City and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim? Valid point.
While some titles may have claimed to help forward the cause of videogames as an art-form, those dudes at Thatgamecompany have managed to spin gold with Journey, a game that is sure to leave an indelible impression upon anyone who plays it.
The set up is simplicity itself. You are a lone, cloaked wanderer about to embark on a pilgrimage, tasked by an elder (presumably spiritual by the way it radiates white light) entity, to the summit of a distant mountaintop. The story is related with no spoken or written words breaking the immersion. There’s no save points with the idea that you complete the trek in a single sitting, and you’ll want to.
A desolate wasteland is a fitting kick-off with little more than the beam of light emanating from the mountaintop as your focal point. Cloth is a large component of Journey with many ruined or swept away structures housing levers or creatures cut from the same… ahem… cloth as yourself. Interacting with these either sets them free of their cages or often opens pathways long closed as you navigate your surroundings to proceed onwards to the next meditation point.
While meditating you reflect on recent events with your tale’s progression told through beautiful hieroglyphics bringing with it an inherent sense of mysticism, mystique and almost childlike wonder. On your travels you’ll come across collectible highlighted glyphs. Seeking each of these out adds length to the cloth scarf wrapped around your neck allowing you to jump and glide greater distances, which are perhaps the only traditional “gaming” elements to Journey.
So Journey isn’t a game in the traditional sense. Following in the footsteps of its previous creations Flow and the tremendously underappreciated Flower, Thatgamecompany pushes the boundaries of what you perceive a game to be while offering a unique and introspective experience that stays with you long after you’ve planted your spiritual flag on the summit.
Visually it impresses with a subtle colour palate infused with warm earthy hues. Characters and structures are created with an impressive economy of line and are yet instantly recognisable. This is wonderfully complimented by a magnificent and poignant score by the Macedonia Radio Symphonic Orchestra that utterly envelops and immerses you, mimicking the physical peaks and valleys; the emotional highs and lows, you’ll traverse. It really is a triumph in understated design.
On your own Journey is a test of endurance of character as you approach your destination beckoning in the distance. The co-operative component allows two players to share the wonder and work together towards a common goal. I was lucky enough to encounter another pilgrim fairly early on and contrary to usual online selfishness, we both felt an unspoken and overwhelming urge to persevere onwards together.
Journey doesn’t penalise you for playing by yourself and only adds to the awesome in co-op. We became a unit joined at the hip as we reached dizzying highs and out of the way ledges, notified the other via musical chant of hidden glyphs and always made sure we operated in tandem for the hour and a half we gamed together. It was the single most memorable and unselfish gaming experience I’ve ever had the pleasure to be a part of and it’s one I won’t soon forget.
It still astounds me that a couple of hours of gameplay left such a profound impact. I found myself unconsciously pondering the trek whilst daydreaming – musing even -- over the spiritual implications and was eager to take it for another spin hoping to find another wanderer in the desert to share an unspoken pilgrimage with. Journey makes you feel like a leaf on the wind, helpless in the face of adversity -- small in the grand scheme of things. Embrace the elements, give yourself over to it and soar to new heights.