Back in March of 2012, a small game released and took the gaming community by storm. This miniscule title, available exclusively on the PlayStation Network, looked to be nothing special; but once played, it shows off the character and charm that turned it from a simple downloadable title to a game that warranted accolades. Developed by Thatgamecompany, “Journey” takes players through an unexpected voyage in what can only be described as an interactive art piece.
Everything about “Journey” is simplistic. Controls are broken down into two buttons while the camera remains controllable by the Dual Shock controller’s gyroscope or right thumb stick. The gamer takes control of a small robed figure that, throughout the course of the two hour game, remains both silent and nameless. “Journey” takes gamers through several terrains, starting off in a vast desert-land that poses no threats and eventually leading to the cloaked figures goal - a large mountain that looms in the distance.
Moving through these terrains requires the aid of small shreds of cloth that can be found floating throughout the game. Interacting with these bits of cloth (by shouting at them) illuminates the figures scarf. Think of this illumination as a sort of energy bar, as it gets used up every time the figure jumps. Progressing through the game, players can collect small orbs of light that lengthen the scarf, thus giving them longer air time when jumping. Reaching goals and hidden orbs oftentimes require longer jumps, so lengthening the scarf is imperative for those looking to complete every aspect of the game. “Journey” houses its own form of multiplayer which randomly drops other players into your game. The experience doesn’t offer too much else, save for a little help when trying to collect out-of-reach orbs, but there’s an unexpected sense of ease that comes from knowing that you’re not alone on this journey.
“Journey’s” gameplay can only be described as one dimensional, as beyond summoning pieces of cloth, finding hidden orbs, and partaking in some minor platforming, there’s not much else to it. Where this would normally be a downfall, Thatgamecompany has created such a visual and auditory experience that having to focus on so many buttons would take away from the real show at hand. This isn’t about taking down bad guys. It’s not about rescuing kidnapped princesses. “Journey” is strictly a game of getting from point A to point B, and it succeeds in ways that don’t seem possible.
Traversing beyond the initial desert plains, the robed figure finds himself in a sort of underwater world where large, almost robotic creatures patrol. If the player falls within the massive creature’s purple search light, the beast attacks and reduces the size of the player’s scarf. Beyond these intimidating beings, there are no hazards that the robed figure must face. Eventually, the journey is taken to a snowy mountain where the game reaches its gripping end.
“Journey” cannot be described without mentioning the musical score, which was composed by Austin Wintory. Throughout the game, music helps to further the importance of the journey by creating moods that would not normally be there. Rightfully so, the score finds itself as the first video game soundtrack to be nominated for the 2013 Grammy Awards “Best Score Soundtrack for Visual Media” category. Without Wintory’s work, “Journey” would still be visually stunning, but it would be nothing more than a visually stunning empty shell.
“Journey” delivers on so many levels that it’s a shame that it is only a mere two to three hours long. Fortunately, Thatgamecompany ensures every second of the game pays off in some way. From beginning to end, accompanying the cloaked figure is a stunning experience that should help to put artistic gaming on the map.