During a time when many video games require you to invest hundreds of hours to complete grand quests to watch an epic story unfold, it’s a rarity to find a game that is so refined and elegant that it is able to tell a visually stunning story within hours. However, that’s what we have with Journey – a beautiful, enigmatic game that can be completed within a mere two hours.
Originally released for PS3 in 2012 by Thatgamecompany, Journey follows an unidentified character who appears in the middle of the desert. With little introduction your character sees a mountain in the distance and it becomes clear this is our mission – to make our way through this harsh terrain to reach the top of the mountain. Why? Because it’s there.
For the most part Journey lacks context and exposition. You don’t know who, what or where you are and what your motivation is for reaching the mountain. For many players I can imagine this is quite tedious but I love that at no point did the game feel the need to hold my hand and spoon feed me all the answers.
There are hints of a larger integrated story through the use of hieroglyphs and cutscenes at the end of each section that imply an incident occurred that changed the world. However, with no dialogue these cutscenes are largely open to interpretation. My take was that in a bid for progress this particular race ended up causing their own downfall and the story is telling the destruction of this lost civilisation.
Gameplay is relatively simple. Your character moves through the world collecting pieces of scarf that allow you to jump and float in the air. The longer the scarf, the longer you can glide across platforms. Whilst simple in design, your character floats with such elegance that as soon as you land, you’ll be longing to be back in the air. Fortunately there are plenty of points at which you can recharge because the game wants and encourages you to explore the gorgeous world it has so intricately designed.
One aspect that particularly stands out is Journey’s alternative and intriguing take on multiplayer. At a spontaneous point in the game you may come across another anonymous figure wandering through the desert and the two of you team up in your mission to reach the mountain.
With no way of communicating with the other player, beyond one button to create a chirping sound, you have no idea who the other person is. However, there are real benefits to having an in-game companion in that if you huddle close enough you can keep each other’s scarves fully charged.
Whilst you can complete the game by yourself, having another person accompany you through the vast and empty desert feels like a great addition to game. Surprisingly you find yourself having a real connection with this person and the lack of being able to speak to the other player is actually quite effective. You may even find it genuinely sad when you finally part ways knowing you’ll never see this person again.
In its 2-3 hour running time, Journey presents you with a gorgeous and lonely world with an ambiguous story. It perfectly combines traditional gaming elements such as exploration, puzzle solving and mild platforming but presents them in a more unconventional way.
The multiplayer adds an incredible level of depth to the game. It can simultaneously introduce the player to the notion of friendship, optimism and loss throughout the story and does it in a way that doesn’t feel forced or over the top.
The game is visually stunning and on more than one occasion I found myself standing on top of a dune in the desert and soaking in the incredible scenery. Whilst the story lacks exposition, it adds to the games enigmatic charm and allows the player to add to it their own experiences and make the story what they wish it to be.