It’s difficult to avoid getting bleary-eyed whenever a game like Journey comes along, cutting through the dizzying glut of shooters and action-heavy titles flooding the market. But while some pundits will likely claim the experience will change your perception of life, make you weep or other romantic tosh like that, hype like this can only muddy the fact that, at base level, Journey is a superb game.
With no narrative and a minimal reliance on text, the intricacies of the plot are left to the player’s imagination. Journey opens with a traveller plodding through the desert towards an intimidating mountain looming on the horizon, and your only goal is to reach the summit, taking you on an evocative pilgrimage that darts between moments of excitement, fear and old-fashioned good fun.
However, the perception that you can plot a path to the mountain of your own accord is merely an illusion, as Journey is very much a linear experience, but to its credit Thatgamecompany herds you in one direction for the purpose of creating stunning scenes and grandiose set-pieces that carry some powerful imagery.
Aside from walking with the left stick, you can also jump and glide for short periods of time, although this power is limited – denoted by the length of the character’s scarf, which is a neat way of stripping out the need for a HUD entirely. The character can also emit a chant, which activates switches and can also be used to communicate with any online players that randomly spawn into your game.
While Journey doesn’t support voice chat, it still represents a neat social experiment, the developer keen to see what players do when they encounter another player while on the road. Aside from racing downhill during a few thrilling sand surfing areas, there isn’t much room for creating custom experiences together, though you can potentially complete the journey with another player.
Where Journey truly excels is in its top-of-the-range visuals, inventive world and its tonal breadth. One moment you will find yourself avoiding the spotlights of menacing, sentient war machines 20 times your size in a barely lit dungeon, and the next plodding through the harsh mountain peaks with almost no visibility, all accompanied by a genuine sense of dread as your character visibly starts to die and can barely walk anymore.
Journey batters the senses through these moments, with each section of the pilgrimage introducing new puzzles and threats, and in around a listless hour and a half it’ll all be over. Some might feel short-changed, but while it lasts Journey manages to enthuse, excite and entertain in equal measure, and this is testament to the expertise of the developer.