Surrounded by an endless expanse of sand, you wake up in a foreign world with only a shimmering mountaintop looming ominously in the distance. Devoid of options, you begin your journey towards a goal that may mark a sanctuary or a false hope. Suddenly, a bright figure appears in the distance. You approach cautiously, not knowing whether he is friend or foe. He peers inquisitively at you for a few seconds before signaling with a luminous circle, instinctively you follow. Behind a flowing waterfall of sand, he shows you a secret and continues on through the level signaling for you to follow. You sit pensively for several seconds before deciding to follow this mysterious figure; in this instant you determine the course of your voyage and in this decision lies the brilliance of "Journey".

            Thatgamecompany is known for their experimental games such as "Flow" or "Flower" and "Journey" is no different, the title is as much a social experiment as it is a game. Players will encounter other online players throughout the gorgeous game world and can decide for themselves whether they want to work with them or ignore them completely while continuing on alone. There is no indication of who the player is, voice communication is disabled and so each player must rely on simple audio cues that accompany visual circles that radiate from the avatar. The complete uniqueness of each individual experience is what makes "Journey" such a captivating game. One journey I rarely interacted with the nearly seven other players I encountered, the other I shared every experience with a single random online player.

            The actual gameplay is minimal, simplistic puzzles are sprinkled throughout that unlock new pathways allowing the characters to continue their trek. The few enemies that appear do not actually kill, but instead cut the scarves players build up through hidden pick-ups that allow them to fly further distances the farther it extends. Despite the simplistic gameplay, exploring the world is extremely satisfying as there are numerous secret areas to explore that may hold runes, artifacts or collectibles for the player to find.

            While the actual interaction with the world is not very robust, the gorgeous environments throughout are some of the best I've seen in any video game. Golden sand twinkles in the sunlight, abandoned ruins appear dark and foreboding and the colossal creatures that inhabit the world are terrifying yet captivating in their ancient, stone golem-like depiction. The sheer wonder that accompanied every new area I found compelled me to explore every inch of this dazzling world.

            Although the graphics are incredible, the most impressive part of Journey is its unique take on co-op. Random other online players populate the game world and will appear throughout each playthrough allowing players to play through co-operatively or ignore them completely and continue throughout solo. Although playing through individually is still a rewarding experience, deciding exactly how you want to play whether that entails jumping from partner to partner or finding a single companion to accompany you is what makes "Journey" stand out. Disabling all communication was a bold choice, but one that I think makes the trip that much more meaningful when it has concluded. When my single partner and I finally reached the distant mountaintop, the sadness I felt at seeing my anonymous companion disappear was something I never thought a game could elicit.

            The beauty of "Journey" doesn't lie in only viewing its gorgeous landscapes or finding every hidden secret, but is instead the harmonious combination of every distinct element. Minimalistic gameplay allows the player to instead focus on experiencing its original take on co-op in whatever manner they please. While the endgame is the illustrious mountaintop, the bond formed with an anonymous avatar is ultimately the greatest triumph of "Journey". When I finally arrived at the seemingly unreachable mountaintop I felt satisfaction, but as I watched my character slowly float away and my partner disappear I was left realizing the mountaintop was worthless and the only thing that ever truly mattered was the journey.

As published by The Daily Cardinal