Some game companies boast a long resume, talking about their gaming accomplishments over the years and the staying power of the franchises they’ve created. Others, however, prefer a smaller palette of games, though ones loaded with the kind of significance that’s hard to shake. And that’s thatgamecompany in a nutshell. These guys have only cranked out so many games over the years, but their PSN efforts — namely the hypnotic flOW and the breathtaking Flower — have created ripples that few other developers can match. With Journey, they complete their current trifecta.
Like their previous efforts, Journey doesn’t compromise the player with unnecessary goals or even a scoring system to worry about besting their rivals. Instead, it’s a trip into an imaginary world — like Flower but so distinctively apart from it. You play a strange, robed creature without the ability to speak, working his (or her?) way across the desert in an attempt to reach a glowing mountain in the distance. There isn’t much story to go on, but as the title indicates, the focus is on the journey, not the destination.
Journey has the kind of compelling level design that easily puts other games to shame. It’s challenging without ever getting to the point of being frustrating. If you should become “stuck” trying to figure out your way around something, like a pair of platforms that require a bridge, the solution is pretty easy to find. And even if you wander too far off, you can always look up for the mountain to get back on the right track. There’s never a point where you need a restart. That would delude the point thatgamecompany is trying to make.
The gameplay is simple, yet wonderful. Your character’s main ability doesn’t even involve a weapon, but rather jumping and gliding. To do that, you’ll need to summon a song — something along the lines of Journey’s theme — in order to get cloth to join you. The longer your cloth, the more enhanced your abilities become. It’s still temporary, but you never run out of refill points, which is fine by us. Some occasional puzzles require you to use your gift of song to activate points, but again, it never gets to the point you become confused.
Honestly, Journey has some of the most natural co-op gameplay we’ve seen. That’s because it doesn’t situate the players with goals, or even the need to stick together. Fellow players join you at random, and you can travel as a duo or split apart, depending what you’re in the mood for. While this sort of gameplay doesn’t require teamwork to get through a stage, it’s fun traveling along with a friend, if only to take in the dazzling sight this trip provides.
Like its previous games, thatgamecompany surrounds Journey with a rich soundtrack. It’s not the kind of pre-recorded music that simply sits there and doesn’t interact with the game. Instead, it lends itself to it, and even combines with your character’s summons in a very creative manner. It’s a naturally flowing track list, one we wouldn’t mind hearing again sometime soon.
If Journey has one incredible factor working in its favor, it’s the visuals. Thatgamecompany has really gone all out creating a mesmerizing world here, whether you’re wandering around in orange-lit desert climates or swimming around in a gorgeous blue-lit underworld. The character animation is unbelievable, especially when your nameless figure goes flying on carpets, which ripple right along with them. You’ll find yourself stopping often in this game, merely for the sake to look around — and for good reason.
If Journey has any sort of Achilles heel, it’s the replay value. Once you’re done, the only thing left to do is go back and look for secret glyphs, unlock all the Trophies, or encounter more random players. However, this is the sort of game you can easily turn back to just for the sake of relaxation, or checking on something you might have missed the first time around. So that’s hardly a setback for picking the game up.
Kudos to thatgamecompany. It continues to evolve with each game it makes, rather than caving in to general game designing convention and “what the masses want”. Journey is their best effort to date; it is an outstanding trip into a fantasy world that never gets old. Its pacing may not be for those seeking something more action-packed, but even they are likely to get sucked in at some point, drawn in by the sights they see. This is a game everyone can enjoy — and should.