Available on PS3
Two things make Journey hard to talk about. Firstly, it’s an astonishing game, but astonishing in a way that’s hard to describe. We can try and cover how you play it, what you do, what it looks like and all that kind of thing, but somehow it all seems a bit prosaic in comparison to the experience of actually playing it. There’s a famous dictum that writing about music is like dancing about architecture, and we feel a bit like that about Journey.
Secondly, it’s a game you should enjoy while knowing as little about it as humanly possible. In fact, we would urge you to put down your tablet, close up your laptop and shut down your PC, fire up your PS3, go to the PSN store, purchase the game, download it and then come back for a nice chat about how good it is in the comments thread (unless for some unfathomable reason you don’t like it, that is).
Still, if you want to read a review beforehand, here it is. Journey comes to us from Thatgamecompany, the small developer that gave us Cloud, Flow and Flower, the last two of which have appeared on PS3. With each game the developer has been growing more ambitious, and while Journey is a short game, at roughly ninety minutes to two hours in length, it feels like an epic. You begin as a robed figure – let’s call them the pilgrim - seemingly lost in a vast desert, with the only visible objective a large mountain in the distance.
This mountain is your goal, and all you really do in Journey is make your way towards it. There are elements of platforming in the scenery you travel through, with ancient ruins and abandoned cities, and in the way that you can fly for brief periods, activate ancient mechanisms and use structures to protect yourself from adversity. However, it’s hard to say that Journey is a platformer in the classic sense. If we were pushed, we might say that it’s a bit like Shadow of the Colossus without the Collosi, or like a weird, ambient take on The Legend of Zelda. Neither explanation really does it justice.
To really get to grips with the experience, we have to start using words like ‘mysterious’, ‘opaque’ and ‘enigmatic’. Journey doesn’t really explain anything beyond the most basic controls. What plot there is is explained in minimalist, ancient-looking tableaux, and the characters and locations are deliberately unnamed. You can work out the game mechanics and how visual indicators relate to matters of gameplay, but nothing is ever forced down your throat. Everything is simply what it is.
Yet the game feels personal and strikingly cinematic. As a camera pulls back to show magnificent architecture or draws in on the pilgrim’s slender robed frame, and the game’s beautiful sweeping score kicks into high gear, it’s a surprisingly emotional experience. During one playthrough of Journey you might experience uncertainty, wonder, joy, fear, awe and hope, and it’s all down to the game’s masterful use of scenery, framing, light, colour and music. Journey is an extraordinary game.