Journey - Review

by VGChartz Staff, posted on 17 March 2012 / 10,966 Views

When the developers at thatgamecompany launched Flower in 2009, they made it clear to the world that video games could deliver more diverse emotional experiences than we'd seen up till then. They then packed themselves away to figure out what emotions to bring to the surface next, and here they are, three years later, with the release of Journey.

It quickly shows that Journey and Flower are of the same mold; they are both linear and short, but also compact and controlled to maximize the experience for the player. This recipe has been polished to a mirror shine in Journey however, to the point where it's almost surreal. So let's start with the worst bit first and work our way up through all the great bits, shall we? Okay, here goes.

Journey is short; so short that a single playthrough will last you around one and a half an hour. Combine that with the game's price tag and you'd be forgiven for thinking that you're not getting your money's worth. Thankfully though, Journey is the kind of game that should be replayed at least once, both because the story will make more sense, but also because you will be meeting new people to undertake your journey with, which helps vary each playthrough. But ultimately you can only play through the game so many times before you lose interest of course.
Alright, now that that's out of the way, let's get to the good stuff, starting with the gameplay. Journey is about keeping things simple and approachable, so the player is kept immersed, rather than brought out of the experience by frustration or complexity. For this purpose, Journey has been split into several small maps where the only goal is to get to the end. You'll encounter a few obstacles that need to be overcome, but they're never difficult to figure out. This may sound like a bad thing, but everything in Journey depends on the flow this gives, and the game absolutely makes the best of it, not least because it lets you share the experience with another player.

In fact, the cooperative play is one of the things that sets Journey apart from the pack. The game automatically pairs you up with another player, but you're not allowed to see who that player is or really communicate with them. Some may consider it a loss that they're not allowed to just play with their friends, but the fact that you're playing with strangers actually helps empower the experience. The feeling you get from finding someone in the same situation as you who can help you and vice versa makes it all more authentic.
And that feeling really is the very reason for Journey's existence. Everything in Journey is centered around finding someone to help you when you're in need and the bond you share by going through these trials together. Coop isn't here for you to have fun with a friend, it's here to let you share a journey with a stranger and thatgamecompany pulls it off. It's still fun to play together of course, parts of the game actively encourage playfulness, but that's just another reason why this works.

But the emotional response Journey can trigger isn't perfect, as, for me at least, Journey didn't quite manage to get me to the same emotional level as Flower did unfortunately. Perfection isn't unattainable however, as proven by the element of Journey we have yet to talk about: the presentation.
Journey presents itself humbly at first. You only get a feel for some of the visuals in the game, the soundtrack is subdued and the story is very low key. But as you get further into it, Journey will reveal its true capabilities, showcasing amazing visual design, fantastic soundtrack and intriguing story telling. The visuals are of the highest quality imaginable, with some rare drops in framerate being the only detrimental factor. Everything else about them simply screams beauty and authenticity, and the world of Journey will take your breath away on several occasions!

The soundtrack supports the visuals beautifully, making the experience all the more gripping and helps bring the highs and lows of your journey to life even better. To top it all off, the story is told in an incredibly minimalist way that leaves it up to the player to fill in the details in such a way that your experience becomes even more personal. The story is quite simple, but the way things start coming together makes for intriguing story telling, and you'll want to play through the game at least a second time just to fill in more details.

And that actually sums up the essence of Journey very well too; personal, simple and intriguing. It's probably the closest gaming has ever been to making two players feel like Frodo and Sam heading to Mordor, and though it's not perfect in every aspect, it can be an amazing experience.
This review is based on a digital copy of Journey purchased via PSN.

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