Journey review
The Good:

Surreal landscape is fascinating to explore; lush orchestral score underscores the emotional journey; fluid controls; innovative anonymous online co-op system makes you care about a random stranger far more than you would expect; intriguing plot told without dialogue or text; no padding or unnecessary content.

The Bad:

Not really a negative in my book, but it is only 3-4 hours long.

Our Verdict:

An ethereal, innovative, emotional cooperative experience, thatgamecompany’s Journey is one that any PlayStation 3 owner should take.

I had the idea for Journey in middle school. I’m not even kidding. In the late '90s, a friend and I developed an idea for a game (which is what we did instead of play soccer with the kids who had lives) in which players took on the role of an androgynous, wispy protagonist with a long, flowing red scarf, waking up in a surreal, vaguely apocalyptic landscape. The gameplay would consist purely of exploring the world and discovering why you were there. There would be no combat and only the lightest of puzzle-solving or platforming. We were kind of weird.

So imagine my surprise when I came across Journey, in which you play as a wispy, androgynous protagonist with a long, flowing red scarf, waking up to explore a surreal, vaguely apocalyptic landscape that contains lots of exploration and only light puzzle-solving and platforming elements. Clearly Jenova Chen, founder of thatgamecompany, is skilled in either inception or wizardry.

Journey, of course, is a much better game than the one we devised in middle school. For one thing, it exists. For another, this PlayStation 3 exclusive is a fantastic piece of work that deserves a place among the classics and to be routinely discussed as a modern milestone in the history of gaming. The developers had already staked out their niche in designing quietly beautiful, avant garde games like flOw, in which you play as a simple organism fighting for survival in the primordial ooze, and flower, in which you play as a gust of wind collecting flower petals. Journey is bigger than those games, more ambitious, more satisfying and emotional. It’s simultaneously more familiar and more innovative. Above all, it’s a triumph.

The game begins with your character, a robed and bescarved humanoid, waking up in the desert. In the distance is a mountain with a gleam of light at its summit... And that’s it—that’s the setup. In that moment, the titular journey is made crystal clear: Go to the mountain. The story is fleshed out as you continue through silent cutscenes that depict the history of the ill-fated civilization whose lands you are exploring, but as it is told wordlessly it always retains an air of mystery and awe. Eventually it becomes somewhat clear what your origin, goal, and purpose is, though it may take multiple playthroughs to fully interpret the cryptic goings-on.

The backstory is there to discover, and it’s highly intriguing, but it’s clear that the focus is on—you guessed it—the journey itself rather than the reasons for undertaking it. On your quest you’ll progress from chapter to chapter, encountering a pleasantly varied smattering of gameplay styles. Some chapters are linear and tightly-scripted while others are relatively open, gating you into a larger area that can be explored at leisure.

All of them are gorgeous. From the early desert valleys to the snowy slopes of the mountains, simply moving through each area is a joy, largely because of the game’s painterly look, with strong earth tones and a cartoonish but mature style. The environments are full of picturesque dunes glittering in the sunset, crumbling ruins of ancient machinery, and overwhelming vistas in the distance. Wonderful small details abound, like the trails left behind as you glide across the sand, as do large details like the impressive draw distance that lets you gaze out over the rooftops of a long-dead city. And Journey is as technically polished as it is artistically accomplished. The solid frame rate never dips even during scenes of great activity, and the game is filled with impressive shaders, post-processing, and other bells and whistles used to great effect.

Even better than the visuals is the sound. There’s a reason that Austin Wintory’s original score for Journey was up for a Best Score Grammy against Hollywood icons such as John Williams, Hans Zimmer, and Howard Shore. The soundtrack is absolutely phenomenal, resembling more the movements of a symphony than a collection of discrete tracks. Moving smoothly from soaring violins to feisty pizzicatos to dissonant cellos, the string-heavy score brings emotional heft to every chapter. It’s a credit to Wintory’s work that the music seems to constantly mold itself to your experience, when in fact the score is non-interactive (outside of reaching certain checkpoints, which will trigger a change of cues). The soundtrack works just as well outside of the game, and the album has been a mainstay on my mp3 player since the game was released.

Journey is played in third-person, and controls most like a platformer. You can move freely through the environment, jumping, gliding, and sliding. And you’ll need to in order to overcome the game’s towers, mountains, caverns, and valleys. One of the guiding principles here is minimalism, however, and to that extent the list of controls is very short. You can move, control the camera (either with the gimmicky Sixaxis motion controls or the more traditional right thumbstick), jump, and “ping,” which will require a bit of explanation.

Jumping and floating forms the core of the gameplay. The almost angelic animations of the protagonist fit perfectly with the floaty controls. Normally in a game that involves platforming, “floaty” controls would be a negative, but here they create a uniquely exhilarating sensation. Holding down the jump button allows you to fly and glide for extended periods of time. As you progress through the game, you’ll gain the ability to jump higher and glide further. This feels natural from the get-go and before long you’ll be a master of your environment, soaring from ledge to ledge like a leaf caught in a breeze. The movement is so forgiving that the platforming is never frustrating. And unlike many platformers, there is no penalty for falling—no infinite abysses, no spike traps, no death at all (this goes for the entire game—it is possible to be hurt during some segments but never to die). It becomes a soothing, freeing experience.

I said that the game involves only light puzzle-solving and I meant it—there aren’t very many and none of them will stump you in the least. There is no inventory and no dialogue, as the puzzles are all exploration-based. In one chapter, you’ll find yourself interacting with objects in order to construct a bridge of scarf-creatures; in another you’ll need to observe flocks of scarf-creatures in order to navigate in a wide open desert. You won’t find doors locked by codes or riddles, and everything in the game can be surpassed by walking around and pinging the right objects. That might sound disappointing to some, but in fact it’s one of the reasons the game never loses its essential flow. More difficulty would have meant bringing the journey to a screeching halt while you pushed blocks around or what have you. That kind of thing is fine, even welcome, in most adventure games, but here it would have been a detriment to the overall experience.

Continued on the next page...



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Game Info

Journey

Platform: PlayStation 3

Genre: Adventure

Developer: thatgamecompany

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Releases
Territory Date Publisher
Download March 13 2012 Sony Computer Entertainment
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About the Author
CitizenArcane's avatar
Nathaniel Berens
Staff Writer

Comments

A.A
Mar 22, 2013

Only played it offline by myself, but, pretty as it was, the game- or “experience”- didn’t do anything for me.

Just not my cup of tea, I’m afraid.

Noitalever
Mar 22, 2013

Why don’t adventuregamer reviews show up on Metacritic anymore?

Jackal Jackal
Mar 22, 2013

They still do. Sometimes it takes a day or so, depending on when an article is posted.

inflikkt inflikkt
Mar 23, 2013

it looks so nice. intrigued by the game idea.  too bad ill never ever ever buy a console. shame they are getting some really nice adventure-type games that wont have pc ports. heavy rain looks nice too..  guess ill just have to wait another 5-10 years till theres an emulator… lol.

MoonBird MoonBird
Mar 24, 2013

I am also concerned about the future of adventure games in PC. Consoles are very well and fine, but there are people like inflikkt and me, who absolutely want to play therir games with computer. To me it’s a question of using the mouse. I don’t play adventures with keyboard or joystick. Only mouse. As for this game, it is fortunate that it happens to be so uninteresting for me that I couldn’t care less Wink I’ve noticed today that weirder the game, higher the praise and hype. Shame. I like traditional adventures, but they always get smashed in reviews of being cliched and not containing anything new. I think that’s not a bad thing for granted. I like conservative thinking and classic gaming.

Caliburn Caliburn
Mar 25, 2013

It’s a beautiful game, not just aesthetically but in terms of emotion and human connection. To really get the intended experience you have to play it in online mode with a companion.

Many games are designed to bring together two or more existing friends online and have them shoot at each other or fight a boss together. But how many games are designed to bring together two strangers—possibly from the other side of the world and who might not even speak the same language—and then encourage these two strangers to develop their own wordless language using the simplest of tools, to treat each other with patience and compassion, to delight in each others’ company as they travel together, and to share in an experience of transcendence?

Not too many.

123pazu 123pazu
Mar 25, 2013

An unforgettable experience that transcends all ages, genders and races… 

p.s.  I’m smelling extreme sour grapes from one of the posters above…  (and mod, this is just an observation, I’m not directly replying to that narrow minded poster)

noknowncure
Mar 28, 2013

Great review and captures some of the transcendent experiences I had while playing. The wordless communication works bafflingly well - I wanted to try for the ‘meditation’ trophy, so sat down and pinged my cohort, who, once they’d seen what I was doing, immediately followed suit. The trophy popped for both of us and we seemed to ping our thanks to one another, then our adventure continued.

I really became protective of my partner; attempting to guide them to safe spots in the more dangerous areas or shelter them from the icy winds. Reaching the summit together through the joyous final section was a remarkable moment in my gaming life.

It’s a truly beautiful experience that you simply have to surrender yourself to and go with it. Any preconceived notions you bring with you will likely leave you disappointed.

fov fov
Mar 31, 2013

I tried the Journey demo a while ago and found it frustrating, so I passed on it. After hearing Jenova Chen talk at GDC about its design and their intent with multiplayer (which I knew nothing about when I played the demo), I decided to buy it. Wow, what a great game. The multiplayer is very unique and wonderfully implemented. On my second playthrough, near the beginning I met someone in a white cloak who obviously had more experience than me and we stuck together the whole time - he/she showed me hidden stuff, encouraged me when I had trouble reaching an area, and amazingly waited for me to catch up numerous times. In another game I might have been frustrated with my struggles with the physics but in this one, the fact that my companion was so patient and stuck with me even though I probably sucked in his/her eyes just added to the experience. I thought we’d lost each other in the final area and when we reunited to finish together I was ridiculously happy to see them again.

The playthroughs might lose their magic over time, but there’s something about the uniqueness of playing with an unknown partner (and the lack of visibility into who that person “really is”—they can be whoever you want them to be) that sets up a unique, cerebral narrative every time. This is what URU should have been like.

Anyway, any PS3 owner who likes adventure games should give this a try. It’s not traditional but it’s not pretentious (which was my first impression of the demo). The designers wanted to create an experience where two strangers could build a meaningful connection through gameplay, and they really pulled it off.

Also - thank you, white cloaked guy, for sticking with me last night, helping me gain several achievements, showing me where to find the hidden glyphs, meditating with me, and trying to teach me to faceplant near the end (even if I never figured out how to do it). I’ll always remember you! Smile

scorp18 scorp18
Jul 27, 2013

Moonbird +1. I may not be the typical gamer, but when it comes to adventure games, it can only mean “point-and-click”.

zane
Jun 8, 2014

It ends so soon… but wow what an experience. The multiplayer has to be experienced to be believed. I was worried since i was late to this party i might not see much multiplayer, but i saw quite a bit. An amazing game!



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