Journey takes you somewhere special


by TRACY-MARK GORGAS / Special contributor to

Posted on May 29, 2012 at 1:24 PM

Updated Sunday, Oct 13 at 5:58 PM

 Can a video game really strike an emotional cord?  Tell a moving story without saying a word?  Journey may be the one to do it.

Telling Journey's story is somewhat impossible.  I can tell you what happens, but it is largely open to individual interpretation.  It's hard to describe it without skewing it towards my point of view or giving things away.
Players start atop a sand dune as a red robed figure in a vast desert looking towards a mountain crevice.  No other guidance is given.  As players move through the desert they find bits and pieces of a civilization, even a forgotten city.  At certain points along the journey players will find places where their character will sit and have a vision of large white robed figure who shows the player pieces of their civilization's story.  The end comes when the player finally reaches the mountain peak.
Controls and Gameplay
The controls for Journey are very minimal.  Along with normal walk/run movement players will have a limited flight or glide abilities, and a shout.  The shout is a catch-all control that allows for interaction with objects in the environment.  It also forms the basis for communication with other players.  Journey does not allow communication through headsets or text like most PlayStation Network games.  When a player meets another online the only way they have of communicating is via the shout. This was done on purpose by the devloper to foster a sense of equality and cooperation.  The shout also can help "recharge" another player's flight.  
At its core Journey is a puzzle solving game with heavy shades of exploration.  As you move through the game you have to figure out how to get to the vision points so you can move on to the next area.  This may involve using your shout to free various versions of cloth-like "creatures" that can help you glide to unreachable sections.  If you play with your game open to online players, a single other player will appear as they play through also.  As stated previously, communication is limited to your shout power, yet you can work together to get through the areas. 
Graphics and Sound
Journey is very impressive.  The graphics have a look that gives it a heavy lean towards a Middle Eastern desert nomad, but with a minimalistic art influence.  It is very clean, stunning, and visually immense.
Sound is also minimal.  You have the sounds of the wind, the few "creatures" that you encounter, and the player's shout.  The shout itself is almost musical.  In Journey's soundscape the chief thing you'll notice is the score.  Easily matching the mood and setting of what is happening onscreen, it is what is telling the story.  I give huge credit to its composer, Austin Wintory; he has gone above and beyond anything I heard in previous games.
Journey is one of those games that fuel the debate over whether or not video games can be considered art.  Stunningly beautiful in its graphics, its sound, and its simplicity.  This is something of a hallmark from the developer, thatgamecompany.  They are the same developer behind fl0wand Flower, two other games that also come up in debates of video games as art.  Journey is a game where once you finish it you feel like you have accomplished something special. 
Outside of the art debate Journey, as a game, is very moving.  You feel and care for your character as you play through, even though there is no real threat to them.  This is not to say there aren't any threats, there are in certain sections.  The threat is more of a hindrance that can make your journey harder to finish.
The puzzles, while not hard, do make you think.  They have just the right amount of challenge to them and some have multiple ways of solving them.
Journey is a short game, I made it though in about 4 hours, and most of that was wondering around exploring.  This does not take away from the game.  It felt just right.  The game presented itself, came to its end, and left satisfaction.
The feeling, the puzzles, the length, and even the limits of communication make for an experience unlike any other game out there.  Journey takes you on a journey and you come back with a bit more than what you went out with.
I'm just surprised it took me this long to discover Journey.  It gets a 5 out 5.
Journey is rated E for Everyone for Mild Fantasy Violence by the Entertainment Software Ratings Board (ESRB).  Journey is available now exclusively on the PlayStation Network.
For more information see the Journey web site.

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