REVIEW: Journey

Nov
29

REVIEW: Journey

Journey is incredibly atmospheric and immersive. The story is open to interpretation but it will keep you gripped throughout, nonetheless.

Released: Steam
Type: Single-player, Co-op,
Genre: Adventure, Walking Sim
Developer: thatgamecompany
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Release date: 11 Jun, 2020

Intro

A stunningly beautiful game in every sense. Journey does literally that. It takes you on a journey of adventure and intrigue accompanied by a mesmerizing soundtrack and sumptuous visuals.

I would normally put a video in my review but because the story is short, I really don’t want to spoil anything.

Pack Your Bags, We’re Going on a Journey

The protagonist doesn’t actually pack any bag. In fact they travel quite light apart from a dress and a scarf. I’m not quite sure if they were wearing underwear, but in the extremely windy conditions I was left wondering whether I was going to get an eyeful of genitalia.

The story is extremely ambiguous and is completely open to interpretation. On your journey you find shrines and glyphs which show signs of your heritage and ancestry. Guided by a mysterious race of beings, they show you further glimpses of past events and happenings. It’s all very mysterious and doesn’t really gain much clarity as it continues. Finding all the glyphs certainly helps as this provides the full picture, even if the picture is incomprehensible.

Reaching the mountain is your ultimate goal in Journey.

What a Beautiful Soundtrack

Journey excels in most areas but I have to give a special mention to the soundtrack. Sound is usually the last thing I mention in a game but in Journey the soundtrack is just dreamy. I would advise listening to it through headphones to truly submerge yourself in its splendor. It grabs you and sends you on emotional highs and lows, creating tension, wonder and awe all in the right places. The sound and sound effects have such an important part to play in the story and the experience. The weather effects were amazing. I genuinely felt cold listening to the wind howling and blustering.

Is This a Film or a Game?

Visually, Journey is almost as impressive. It feels fabulously cinematic, with reams of beautiful vistas and directorial masterpieces. There were so many different techniques used including clever use of light and shadow and character movement. Through the actions of the character we felt emotion, whether he was struggling through the dense snow or watching the many cut scenes revealing the story. Although the graphics are basic in design, Journey is so well crafted it feels like an award-winning film.

Gameplay

Your character possesses the power of jumping huge distances and the ability to communicate with bursts of sound. The degree at which they can jump is determined by the size of their scarf; The longer the scarf, the further they jump.
Collecting luminous symbols enlarges your scarf; These are hidden throughout the landscapes, usually in some difficult to reach places.

Gathering these symbols is useful but not necessarily essential. They do add a puzzle platform element to proceedings but you can usually achieve your goals without them. A partner often joins your game who can regenerate your scarf anyway.

It took me a while to grasp the art of jumping. Often, other players would join my game and they seemed so more skilled in the art than I was. It can take a little practice to really reach maximum heights but once you are up there in the air it feels like you are soaring like a bird. There are other skills you can learn also, including one scene where you slalom through ruins as you hurtle down hills of sand. When and where you slide is determined by the game however.

You move quite slowly through most terrains and areas are reasonably linear, but there is a slight opportunity to explore.

Occasionally, you will encounter cloth monsters who appear imprisoned in cages. Projecting loud noises near them unlocks their shackles and releases these fabric creatures. In turn they often aid you on your quest and without helping them you are unable to continue.

There are times when you are in danger and can be hurt by enemies called Guardians. These are airborne centipede like creatures who scour the ground looking for targets. If you get caught in their glare, they will send out a burst of energy which will damage your scarf and cripple your ability to jump. There aren’t too many sections in the game where you feel in danger. The further your journey takes you, the more perilous it gets.

There is a nice rhythm about Journey and it is paced very well. Initially, everything seems quite chilled and you’re more concerned with exploration, whereas later on the danger increases and you feel a sense of panic and urgency to reach your goal.

The goal is simple. On each level you need to reach the shrine to meditate. Obviously, there are things in your way in the form of small puzzles or light platforming duties. The puzzles aren’t difficult and the gameplay is geared towards you reaching the end. I doubt you’ll have much trouble navigating the different areas.

Troublesome Achievements

There are various things to find and collect, including glyphs and symbols. These are more aimed at achievement hunters, although the glyphs do reward you with a more rounded and comprehensive story. The symbols add to your jumping prowess and there are achievements for collecting all these too. Some of the achievements rely on cooperation from a random partner and without any communication this can prove troublesome. For example, one of the achievements is to meditate with a friend for twenty seconds. I must have tried this with five different people, sitting down, and waiting for them to join me. None of them did.

Another achievement was to cross a bridge without building it fully. I was on my lonesome working out how to tackle this puzzle when an uninvited guest appeared and built the whole bridge for me.

Two’s a Crowd?

You have no choice whether a person can join your session or not and this can prove annoying sometimes. On my first playthrough I just wanted to experience things by myself but another player ended up showing me the ropes and completing tasks for me. I felt like I had been robbed of the challenge and wanted to discover this for myself. I think there should be an option of whether you want anyone to join your session or not before you start.

On subsequent playthroughs however, I quite enjoyed playing with someone. It’s a shame you cannot communicate other than making sounds, even an emoticon wheel might have been nice. It feels like you are in partnership with the person. Often, the game forces you to work closely together and you are also able to regenerate each other’s scarfs with bursts of sound. There is a great sense of comradery when you work together to achieve your goals.

Verdict

Journey is a delight to play and provides a truly cinematic experience. Your senses will be indulged and presented with a wonderful array of visual and audible pleasures.

Initial game time is around ninety minutes but there is scope to play through again with different playing partners. There are also some difficult achievements to chase and some story plots you probably missed so there is more meat on the bones.

You can’t put a price on quality.

Journey is pure and simply a masterpiece

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