There are very few games that leave you with a sense of awe: that have the power to transport you to distant lands, and provoke a discussion amongst an audience. This is what made Journey so refreshing back when it was released on PlayStation 3 in 2012. The game not only managed to create a convincing world, it accomplished an "unspoken thematic universality” that gave those that experienced it the chance to imprint their own interpretations on events. With its recent port to PlayStation 4 the adventure is now guaranteed to win over a whole new generation of players that missed out first time around.
Over scorching sands and through temples encased in snow, you are tasked with travelling towards an ominous light source that shines brightly on the horizon. Equipped with the ability to produce a single note, you will need to interact with pieces of cloth to build bridges and attain the powers necessary to advance. These interactions will give your character the gift of flight, which is a quicker and altogether more satisfying method of travel than walking. This will aid you in your quest as you wander onwards through an assortment of environments.
Journey also gives you the chance to join and cooperate with other players to progress. These encounters are one of the game’s greatest highlights. Despite having no elaborate means of communicating, you will build a strong rapport with your fellow adventurer as you struggle against the environment to reach your goal. One of the many ways this can be achieved is by utilizing your limited vernacular to represent a specific action in the game. By producing an elongated note, you can indicate that you are plotting to interact with a particular obstacle. This will then allow your fellow traveller to go elsewhere and complete another task. Interacting with others is not a compulsory feature in the game, but it is too interesting to ignore. Spying a red speck alone in the barren landscape, you will feel compelled to catch up and to assist them in their struggle.
The storytelling in Journey is extremely minimal, but it manages to evoke a strong emotional reaction from the player. This is created by the presence of numerous factors. One of the most prominent of these is the art design. The game is just gorgeous to look at. The settings are stunning and they envelop the player with their sheer size and scale. Ruined monuments tower over your character, whilst temple interiors are labyrinthine in their appearance. The effect this has is that it makes the game feel epic, like you’re a small part of a much larger world. It also fuels your curiosity as to what will await you at the other end of your travails. Player progress is for the most part rewarded with the presence of pre-rendered cut scenes and murals, which give some slight insight into the history of the setting. These murals also serve the added purpose of mapping your development.
Weather conditions are recreated in fantastic detail. They provide almost insurmountable odds for your character to overcome. Whether it is travelling up a steep incline in the midst of a blizzard or being pelted by the wind on a mountain ridge, you will sense the overwhelming power of the elements as they try to inhibit your progress.
Another element that contributes to the game’s aesthetic and its emotional resonance is the score. The music by Austin Wintory is nothing short of spectacular. In 2013, it was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media, making it the first video game to be selected as a nominee in the award’s history, and it’s easy to see why. The music is integral to establishing the dramatic tone of each scene. Its soaring violin, delicate instrumentation, and inventive percussion are vital components in clueing the player in on how they are supposed to feel. It runs a gamut of emotions, prompting both shock and excitement from the player as they traverse the landscape. From the opening theme to the epic final arrangement, you will have to be stony-hearted to ignore the heartrending quality of the score.
The amalgamation of both the music and the art style gives the game a cinematic quality. This is aided by a superb camera function that is always able to frame the action perfectly to accentuate all of the game’s best qualities. You will often find your finger hovering over the share button to capture a moment in a screenshot. It’s simply breathtaking.
Something that should be noted is the game’s length. Journey is a relatively short game, clocking in at around two hours. For most other games this would be a criticism that’s worthy of being mentioned, but in this case it seems appropriate that the experience is so fleeting. This is because the game stays with you long after you have finished playing. You may find yourself at work or with friends and still be turning over some of the ideas from the game. This gives it some of the longevity that it is missing elsewhere.
The game does have some neat tricks in store for those who decide to return for a second or third playthrough. These secrets come in the form of achievements, Easter eggs, and unlockable robes that serve as additional objectives in the game. Should you find yourself wanting more from the experience, these provide a good reason to delve back into the title.
There are some differences between the original PS3 version and the latest edition. The most significant of these is that the latter runs at 60 frames per second. This is a welcome new feature that was expected when the upgrade was announced. Another change is the removal of motion blur from the game. This was used effectively in the original game to create a sense of speed as player’s glided along a set of dunes, but has been cut presumably because of its higher performance. This may frustrate some, but it will be largely ignored by others.
If you didn’t experience Journey when it was originally published on the PlayStation 3, the recent re-release is a perfect excuse to invest in a copy. The game is a spellbinding experience that really is a credit to its medium. It is an example of a title that pushes the limits of what can really be achieved inside of the video game format. Please do yourself a favour and do not miss out on this landmark title. You do so at your own risk.