The lights are on
What new ideas the game brings to the table and how well old ideas are presented.
How good a game looks, taking into account any flaws such as bad collision or pop-up.
Does the game’s music and sound effects get you involved or do they make you resolve to always play with the volume down?
Basically, the controller to human interface. The less you think about the hunk of plastic in your hands, the better the playability.
Flat out, just how fun the game is to play. The most important factor in rating a game.
One of the chief creative voices at thatgamecompany, Jenova Chen,
once described his earlier game, Flower, in an intriguing way. He said
it was to big disc-based games what poems are to novels. I can find no
better description to apply to his follow-up, except to say that if
Flower was an abstract haiku about the fragility of nature, Journey is a
narrative ballad defined by discrete images and places. Journey offers
players a brief but memorable glimpse into another world, and through
the confluence of music, images, and play, a quiet meditation on
solitude and the interconnection of people.
As you might expect, a
lot of what makes a game called Journey so engaging is the slow
unraveling of mystery as you learn more about where you are and what
you’re doing. To that end, I’d be spoiling things to describe too much.
It’s enough to say that you play an unnamed red-cloaked figure who finds
him or herself in a vast desert as the game begins. The only landmark
in sight is a distant glowing mountain peak that serves as your
destination. Along the way, you’ll uncover secrets and slowly increase
your ability to navigate freely through semi-permanent pick-ups in the
world. Simplistic puzzles bar forward progress, mostly built around
learning the properties of the world and the creatures that live within
it. Most of the time, you’ll be pushing forward across the sands, or
flitting over it like a leaf in flight as your character grows more
As the journey unfolds, a cryptic tale reveals both a
backstory to the world and its many ruins, and some semblance of who you
are and why you’re traveling to the mountain. Without words or text,
this narrative remains up for interpretation through its conclusion and
is likely to frustrate those looking for more concrete answers. The real
story is about the places you visit as you travel and the sense of
isolation the game evokes as you go.
Journey’s most innovative
feature is the way it lifts that sense of loneliness through cooperative
play. If you play online as you travel and come to a spot where another
player is also exploring, you can interact with them. Join them as they
continue, or split off and leave them behind. Take them to hidden
secrets you have found, or solve a puzzle together. There’s even a
simple form of communication – a sort of chirping call that can be used
to “speak” back and forth. When playing together, you’ll quickly notice
the way you can help to recharge each other’s energy, and by working
together you’ll have an easier time moving through the world and its
challenges. It’s not a subtle metaphor, but it is a powerful one.
recommend playing the game both ways. That is, consider unplugging your
online connection and playing by yourself at some point, and then plug
in and find someone in the game world to join. It’s surprising how
different the game feels based on your choice.
Journey is a visual
stunner thanks to some remarkable sand movement technology and
excellent animation work, both on the main character and the strange
creatures encountered along the way. For a game all about dry, harsh
deserts, the way things move in the world make everything feel much more
like a vast ocean. The graphical beauty is accompanied by an equally
breathtaking musical score, which responds to character actions and
changes in location with ease.
The artistic and technical
excellence of Journey make it worth your time, but no one should have
illusions about uncovering a complex gameplay experience. I find no
fault with simple, accessible design, but the lack of any real challenge
over the course of the game lessens the impact of the journey’s
conclusion – how am I meant to feel like I’ve just come through an
arduous quest if nothing ever made me really think or work hard? In the
pursuit of highly scripted moments of beauty, the game loses a sense of
player agency and choice. At the end of the day, it’s a trade-off I’m
okay with, but less linear pathing through the events might have
increased my involvement in the experience.
If you judge a game
solely by its complex battle systems, intricate puzzles, or branching
upgrade systems, Journey is likely a disappointment. If you’re open to
that often nebulous realm of how a game might elicit emotion and the
artistic potential of interactive narrative, Journey is an absolute
must-play. During the course of covering the game, I completed it at
least three times, with one entire playthrough being with a partner.
Each time, without fail, individual moments (particularly the final
level) managed to give me goosebumps, and those moments have remained on
my mind for weeks afterward. Give Journey the same attention you might
bring to a musical concert, a well-directed film, or a long-awaited
book, and its rewards are substantial.
Email the author Matt Miller, or follow on Game Informer.