There is something magical about entering a game that has been developed by ThatGamesCompany, whether it be the world of FlOw with it’s simple but effective gameplay or the beautiful and enchanting Flower. There is definitely something about its games that makes you want to play. ThatGameCompany taps into the simplest of gameplay types but offers them in such a way that it feels like it's in an artist’s gallery rather than on your bedroom or living room tv. And so enters its next title, Journey.
This review may contain some minor spoilers, although we have done our best to avoid these where possible.
Stepping into the world of Journey, you are presented with nothing. I really do mean nothing! You do have a character – a small red cloaked figure – a massive desert and a short tutorial on how to move and direct the camera, but that’s all you get. There are no prompts to tell you what to do or where to go, which pretty much goes against all logic in games nowadays. Here in Journey you are left to your own devices with no-handholding taking place at all. This can be a very disconcerting situation for many, after games offering you a massive amount of instructions on the most rudimentary of objectives, Journey comes off sparse. But this is the key to Journey’s power, you have to think and use your common sense.
Scanning the desert landscape you find yourself sitting in, you’re presented with one of the most striking views you can get in gaming. The sand is a muted tone with shallow ripples running across it; above you a large sand dune half blocks the sun, casting a deep shadow over the area. Looking closer at the sun you can see flares of light turning the sand a bleached copper colour. This is all in the first couple of minutes; you haven’t even been shown the opening title yet. But as you may have guessed this is the kind of calibre that you are presented with in Journey.
As you climb the sand dune ahead of you, the game opens up and gives you that long awaited word, Journey. Beyond the dune, there is a mountain towering over the landscape – that is your target. You know it immediately, its vastness and your own logic tells you that this is the case. Dropping down the dune and walking a short distance presents you with a new vista that is more breath-taking, a ruined cityscape lies beneath you and so you are introduced to the clever menu system, which has been carefully integrated into the world of Journey. The menu system offers affectively just two options, a chapter select for when you have finished your first journey (believe me it will be the first of many) and then a ‘start game’ option which is accessed via climbing a tower and opening a gate.
Climbing and navigation is a massive part of the game, your character acts in a similar way to characters like Nathan Drake of Uncharted fame as it will automatically climb any small step-like ledges, but other ledges, such as those out of reach, will need to be dropped onto via a temporary flying mechanic. Your character has the ability to fly in shorts bursts, these are lengthened by collecting cube shaped glyphs. The key to your ability to fly is a magical scarf that is given to you at the beginning of the game. As you progress through the world you meet with strange cloth-based creatures, these creatures will help you on your way or offer a charge to your flying ability. How and why this happens is linked to the story of the game of which I will not spoil.
Speaking of the story, the game has no speech. None at all, the only sound that your character can make is a deep-pitched whistle. This whistle is bestowed with a magical element that allows you to communicate with the cloth creatures and activate flowing pieces of cloth around the game’s world. These pieces of cloth are elements to the game’s core puzzling as each one has a purpose, for example: in a section at the beginning of the game, you’ll need to activate all the cloth banners around the level to create a bridge that will allow you to access the next section.
What’s more, as the game is a take on the Online Adventure genre, you can and will encounter other travellers during your journey. When you meet a fellow traveller, again speech is not available, not even the ID of the other player is shown. You can communicate and work together by using your whistle to highlight points that need to be worked or puzzles that need to be completed. This take on multiplayer and the MMO framework, is a breath of fresh air to a genre that has become somewhat dull and mediocre. This use of online play is akin to the drop in/drop out play style that co-op games such as the Lego series of games have used but in a more dynamic fashion, as players can drift through helping others that they meet and moving on or partying up to finish their quests together.
To say that Journey isn’t unique would be a complete lie, the game offers a completely different experience for each type of player. The solo player can explore and take their time with the game, whereas a group of players can tackle the game together, there is something special about this simple format of play. ThatGameCompany is following in the footsteps of Naughty Dog by creating some of the most impressive sand and terrain effects I have seen in a game, and certainly the best I have seen in a downloadable title. Journey is the Fantasia of the gaming world, it is bright, it is fun and overall it is an experience not to be missed.
(Version Tested: PS3/PS4)
+ Looks wonderful
+ Sounds wonderful
+ A unique and not to be missed experience