“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.” – Ernest Hemingway
What does it means to go on a Journey? Do you define it as the textbook definition or Hemingway’s more philosophical one? In its purest sense Journey is what you experience along the way to the your destination. Despite its simplicity Journey is a fantastic game that delivers a unique experience. Those who take the journey can expect to encounter a sense of wonder, mystery, joy, and sadness.
Players take the reins of a cloaked wanderer with no idea what the character is, who they are, or even where they are. The endless expanse of the desert and a looming mountain emitting the light of a fallen star is all that’s presented to you. Beyond all reason our character is compelled to start a dangerous journey to that mountain. This is where your Journey beings. Now, before I continue, I want to mention I will be avoiding talking about areas in the game, events, and plot points. This is a game where knowing less is better before you play; where what you feel and experience defines how well you receive the game.
One of the most charming aspects of Journey is its simplicity. If you were looking for a game with deep gameplay mechanics… keep looking. That’s not saying its simplicity is a bad thing, although it does have its downsides. For what Journey wants to be, there is no better way to deliver Thatgamecompany’s intended experience than through simplicity. Detailed gameplay mechanics would have only bogged down the game. However, I would have liked to see the gameplay mechanics used in more interesting ways such as light puzzle mechanics or more difficult platforming sequences. Not many situations are presented to the player to hinder them on their Journey, as players can basically walk through the game without much trouble.
Gameplay consists of jumping and gliding and using a musical chime mechanic. Jumping and gliding is fun, free, and weightless. Its always fun to do, however there isn’t a lot of variation mixing up the platforming. You can increase your scarf length every time you find another glowing symbol in the world. The addition of the glowing symbols, as well as hidden ancient glyphs, encourages exploration around the games environment. You do however have only a limited amount of glide in your scarf at any given time. It can be recharged by emitting a musical chime near groups of flying cloths, cloth creatures, or by your partner in the game. The levels are designed well with flying cloths readily available to recharge your scarf if you need it. There are times when cloths are not available resulting in the need to monitor your scarf usage or rely on your partner for help. The game doesn’t punish players if they have short scarves. However, getting to certain glowing symbols and glyphs can be tough without a large enough scarf. Players don’t need to worry about finding every last symbol as the game can be beaten with a short scarf.
This is the second game I’ve played this year with no spoken or written words. Unlike Machinarium however, there are no vocal grunts or gibberish. The only way to essentially communicate is through a musical chime emitted by the character. Communication is limited, but by using a series of fast and short chimes I’ve directed (and been directed) players to hidden glowing symbols or ancient glyphs. A chime’s size depends on how long the button is held down. Just tapping the circle button will produce small but fast chimes, while holding it down will produce a large chime. These musical chimes also serve an important role during gameplay. They’re used to illuminate pillars, beckon for sentient cloths to recharge your scarf, bring old worn cloths back to life, and to recharge your partner’s scarf.
For many, the main highlight of playing Journey is their first player encounter. Unlike in other multiplayer games you have no way to communicate with the other person. There is no voice chat or text chat. It’s a surreal feeling; working together to achieve a goal without ever exchanging words. It also give the player some perspective on the world at large. Out there, scattered across the desert are others like you, who have seen the falling star and embark to this mountain on a whim.
Having two characters on the screen at one time that look the exact same can cause some confusion. Thankfully, you can tell which character is yours based on scarf length and an individual chime symbol. If you are considering playing solo, I advise against it. You don’t have to deal with players being rude and you can advance to the next level without them. Playing co-op is also advantageous to your survival in later stages of the game. The down side to anonymity in Journey is that you might have someone who has no intention of working with you and just glides around pointlessly.
The soundtrack if fantastic, it changes and fits the mood of each location perfectly, ranging from upbeat and happy, to the mysterious and dangerous. The use of music in situations is perfect and fits the level to a T. There are also times when music is not present. It was also a nice change of pace to listen and enjoy the silence. No music; just the sound of the wind and the shifting sands is pure brilliance.
Visually, Journey is amazing. The way Journey uses colors is fantastic. The color palate for the sand is downright gorgeous, from browns, red browns, to what looks like liquid gold when the sun hits it. Journey likes to use camera angles, pulling back to highlight certain landmarks. There were times I had to just stop and stare at the scenery. It’s a wonderful thing just to sit and meditate, using the select button, (you’re welcome) and gaze at the sights.
Looking back I’m not even sure which genre I would classify Journey in. It’s unique and feels less like playing a game and more like experiencing one. The gameplay, while simplistic, works perfectly. The downside is that there is really no challenge involved in the game or the need to utilize gliding and chiming in unique ways. Many players can literally walk through the game without any trouble. It would have been nice to have some sections that provided a road block and added a layer of depth and difficulty to your Journey. Collectibles in the form of glowing symbols and ancient glyphs scattered throughout the world encourage exploration. I highly suggest players find as many glyphs as possible as they help piece together the world around you. Journey is beautiful, the camera angles, the music, the sand etc. On your way to the mountain’s summit you will explore the world and discover why it is the way it is. Playing with others is an amazing experience, after all, a Journey is best taken with other people.