Journey is an adventure game developed by thatgamecompany [sic] and published by Sony Computer Entertainment America. The game was originally released on PlayStation 3 in 2012 and was released in 2015 on the PlayStation 4. Throughout the game, players traverse a vast desert in an attempt to reach a distant peak. Although the game’s duration is short, the experience itself is remarkable and will live on in players’ memories.
The main crux of Journey is its marriage of experiential storytelling with gorgeous art design and visuals. In short, Journey is an environment-driven game. Players really only know that your character has fallen, like a meteor, from the sky and landed in a desert. And that’s all. Along your odyssey, you see some hieroglyphics that loosely reflect you the stages of your journey and provide a glimpse of what lies ahead. However, these loose messages are just that, it is really up to the player to connect the dots and glean the messages of the game.
Journey’s controls allow for the PlayStation controller’s motion sensitivity, a sign of its original release on the PlayStation 3 when Sony was trying to use this feature in creative ways. Fortunately, the controls also allow for the more traditional dual analog stick scheme. The broader control map is left pretty vacant as Journey uses few controls; this is a positive factor, however, as it keeps the gameplay feeling tight.
The character’s slide, jump, glide, and walking animations feel fluid and complement the visuals. This is specifically noticeable in parts where the character has trouble walking. The weight and struggle of climbing up a sand dune feels quite authentic, considering I’ve personally been to sand dunes. At first I thought it would have been nice to have a run or quick walk function, but once you get used to the ambiance and controls, that became an unnecessary desire. All of these elements add to Journey’s pleasant gameplay experience.
The art design and visuals are simply outstanding. Throughout the game, Journey employs color, light, and shadow in a striking manner. The environmental variations and sense of scale keep the game feeling and looking fresh and amplifies its immersive atmosphere. Some desert scenes look realistic, others look like gouache paintings. The diversity in art does not feel fragmented. Rather the varying styles helps give Journey character. Some of the stages utilize the light and sand in such a way that you feel like Midas or Scrooge McDuck as you slide down sand that resembles mountains of gold coins.
Austin Wintroy’s score is excellent and enhances the game’s emotional pull. The flowing strings and orchestral pieces make Journey’s soundtrack iconic. Wintroy also uses small musical flares for the characters’ “communication.” These provide personality to the explorer and other elements found within each stage. It should also be stated that the general sound design is also a great complement to the immersive and experiential nature of the game. Whether it’s howling wind, footsteps, or other audio cues, Journey has some of the best video game sound design I have heard in a long time, regardless of indie or triple-A status.
Overall, Journey is a powerful, contained experience. Although the story will last players a short time, it is very memorable and well done. Certain parts gave me goosebumps and I got teary-eyed during the credits as the game concluded. I definitely am interested in going back and experiencing the game again. After playing, I surmised that Journey had strong messages that stressed the importance of companionship and a caution to not navigate our own “journeys” alone. This is a message that benefits us all.
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Rating: E; Descriptors: Mild Fantasy Violence