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The Game Effect Review

Journey Review

Journey Through The Desert On A Pilgrimage Through Beauty and Emotion

By Nick Schneider on 3/11/2012
As me and my partner, with their strange audio chirps, surf down a canyon to a deep yet beautifully colored cave, we catch rides from enchanting beasts and celebrate with our own version of a song. Once our destination has been reached we sit down to meditate at the entrance of the cave, and I too pause to meditate on the beauty that I have just seen.

Feeling anxious I decide to leave my partner behind, there is no time to wait, as my Journey must continue. I gather my thoughts and send out several beautiful melodic notes to my partner and make my way into the cavern. Having expected more beauty and glory on my quest to the mountain, an instant feeling of dread crushes my senses as I awaken an ancient beast. I left my partner behind, and now I must go through this alone. Dread and fear slowly fill the cavern and I make my way forward, careful not to alert this monstrous serpent to my presence.

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The scenario above is just one of the many experiences I've had with Journey over the past couple of days, and it highlights the exact mastery of craft that That Game Company puts on display with their latest title. Journey seems simple and direct, and it's that simplicity that provides the title with an elegance which is rarely seen in the video game realm. The vistas are breathtaking to behold, and so incredibly detailed that not once is there a moment when the world doesn't feel alive. Beautiful orchestral scores accompany the player as they make their journey to the mountain seen at the beginning of the game, and Journey grabs you by the heart and tugs you along. Without any dialogue, That Game Company has created a game with an entirely breathtaking story entirely through gameplay and limited player interaction. It is a journey through beauty and tragedy, and leads up to one of the best conclusions a player can ask for in a modern day title.

Beauty Comes Through Design and Mechanics

Elegant is a word that is rarely used to describe a video game, however there are no other words to describe what Journey has accomplished. Characters move with surprising grace and poise as they travel across the desert on their road to the mountain top. The flow of the game is entirely dependent on a player's ability to navigate the environment, and That Game Company has created a simplistic approach, but one that also helps move the game into a means of compelling players to attach to their buddy for the journey. Throughout the time of Journey the objective is simple, reach the mountain that you see at the title screen, and That Game Company removes complex control barriers in a way that allows players to focus on just that journey.

Throughout the journey ahead players will encounter various forms of life that provide energy for their secondary form of travel. While players will primarily walk to their next location, they are also given an ability to glide for a limited time. This time is given by the length of the player's scarf which can be increased by finding glyphs across the landscape. Run out of enchantment on your scarf, and the player must find a way to recharge that energy. Players will typically utilize the various creatures they encounter along the way to provide more enchantment, but teaming up with a buddy provides another method, and in this way That Game Company has created the ultimate co-op experience.

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The first time entering the desert can be a bit of a gut punch; there is very little life to be seen, and players are provided a brief tutorial on some of the game mechanics before making their way to the next destination. Once you run into another player is when Journey kicks its storytelling into high gear. Players may not even know they are in the presence of another player, unless they are paying attention to the sounds of the game. The chirps that players make are used as a natural way to interact with the world, send out a long melodic note and some of the world's inhabitants will provide you a boost to your next location. These notes are essential to bringing the experience to life, as they often signal that another traveler is near by.

Hearing that first extended note as another player attempts to activate a switch or creature of some sort will be your first cue. Once players acknowledge each other's presence, then they are free to solve puzzles together, or simply press on without them. Stick together, and your chirps will recharge your buddies enchanted scarf. Even sitting next to each other you can benefit from the ability to recharge your scarf, and while seemingly a simple mechanic that feels cheap to exploit, once players enter the final act they will understand just how powerful of a method this is for storytelling.

Graphics and Sound Combine For The Backdrop of The Story

If the mechanics of the game are elegant, then the world itself is a masterwork painting brought to life by fantastic music and sound design. The world of Journey isn't so much enlivened through these sound and graphics, it exists because of these two forces. The sand in the desert appears individually rendered, and moves with such fluid motion that you would swear you were standing right there in the rolling dunes themselves. As the sun sets and the environments change, each one feels unique and alive.

Whether you're watching the golden red sand reflect the sun during sunset, or in that cave with the bluish gray light that feels more like water then an actual cave out in the desert, each environment bursts with life, beauty, and danger for the player to sit back and marvel. Add to this an orchestral score that brings emotions to life, and what That Game Company has created is a game that tells its story through the environment and sound, while ditching the conventions of dialogue and massive set pieces.  

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When players interact with each other, there are no names floating above that buddies head, nor will you hear a mic break in while playing. You are given your buddy, and you have to figure out how to communicate using your chirps. These melodic sounds not only offer protection and the ability to interact with many of the puzzles, but they also tie-in in perfectly with the score. A player could spend countless hours communicating through melody and rhythm, and never once consider them displeasing or distracting to the score at hand. These chirps become such a comfort blanket, that when you can't hear your buddy anymore a natural panic sets in. These moments are created naturally, and are what create a story that could rival anything another entertainment medium has to offfer.

Sometimes Less Is MoreOf the three journey's I've completed so far, none of them have taken more than 3 hours, yet despite this I keep coming back for more. That Game Company has filled the desert and environments with secrets to be found, and Journey just keeps begging me to return. This has potential to turn away potential customers, but to not experience what this game has to offer would be a crime against a medium that has struggled to find its position as one that can excel at storytelling. Because of the simplistic nature of the game, the mechanics and world are left to tell a story to the player that is experiencing those events. The plot may remain the same, but each journey is an experience like none other. It may seem trivial to repeat such an age old cliche but that saying holds true in the case of Journey.

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Overall Impression

Since first embarking on this masterful experience, Journey has grabbed me at the heart and mind and hasn't yet let go. I constantly find myself revisiting the landscapes and creatures in my mind while away from my system. With this title, That Game Company has shown that games don't require a heavy backstory, conversation trees, constant narration, or demented characters to tell a complete story. All you need is an environment, a player, and an elegant design to provide players with their own journey towards the mountain. 
  Journey isn't a video game so much as it is an experience. It's beauty lies in the simplicity of gameplay, but also in the narration through sound, melody, and player interaction. To skip on Journey is to miss the pinnacle of gameplay and design that makes games accomplish something that even movies and books cannot: the ability to interact with a compelling and beautiful world, and leave that world with a greater understanding of yourself. Journey is a great game, but more importantly it's a fantastic piece of literature, cinema, and writing that clearly defines the best parts of this industry.

The Good
  • Seemless Co-op Adds Relevance To Story
  • Musical Score Fills World With Life
  • Simplistic Controls Lead To Elegance
The Bad
  • A Bit Short
Have something to say about this article? Let us know about it!
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iraqisoldier on March 28, 2012

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ClintNorris234 on March 28, 2012
An excellent Game anyone can play. Literally.  My mom, who doesn't even understand CAMERA CONTROL beat half the game
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skullcrusher140 on March 19, 2012
This  game does sound great and it got a 10 on this site it seems perfect and who cares if its a bit short if it was longer it probably wouldn't have been as good
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AsherSackman on March 18, 2012
I'm friends with one of the game designers from That Game Company, and I can tell you that they really have art behind their amazing games. From what they've told me and what I can see in them, they will keep pushing the boundaries.
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Fenriff on March 17, 2012
I finally got around to playing this game last night and I went into it unsure about how it could possibly be as amazing as everyone praises it to be, but as somewhat of a critic on my own time I couldn't pass up the opportunity. It took no time at all for me to go from unsure to in love. I have never experienced anything that exuded such raw emotion. The scenery is gorgeous and the simplicity of it only makes it more amazing. There is no combat, no dialogue, just the Journey.

The way multiplayer is integrated into is astonishing, I played with 8 different people on the course of my journey and without being able to speak a single word every time it was someone who was willing to run along side me and help me out. Not once did someone just show up and run off. The length seems short at first but once you experience it you realize it's perfect because it allows you to have this amazing journey in one sitting. I can't recommend this game more.
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indiejones on March 12, 2012
A perfect 10? Whoa! I can't wait to play this game. I am even tempted to take a break from Mass Effect 3 to play it. Great review Nick!
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NSchneider on March 13, 2012
I know seems odd, since I've never considered any game a perfect 10 before, however this game does the one thing that I've wanted from a game for so many years and that is bring me a sense of personal revelation that only books and movies have done perfectly.  Top it off with mechanics that work exactly as intended, and work perfectly throughout and That Game Company has created a masterpiece.
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quantifier on March 12, 2012
The ratings have all been great, the reviews have been stellar. Oh how I wish this was on something other than PS3!!! I know this is a game I would love...Bastion was my GOTY last year.
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NSchneider on March 13, 2012
If you like Bastion then yes you would love this game.  It's not super long, and the mechanics aren't extremely complex, but it's flawless in execution and story telling.  This game is a modern day masterpiece, and I hope will go down in history as one of the greatest games ever made.  I also agree that it wasn't limited to PS3, I have one, but I would love for this game to make its way to a larger audience.  Which is also my crutch with Bastion I haven't been able to play because of it's 360 exclusivity.
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DpadAddict on March 12, 2012
Truly unique, it deserves the 10.
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