I was deep into Journey when the first instance of violence I had yet seen shocked me out of reverie. Until then, I was simply out to sea, enjoying the wonderful, lovely, emotional and evocative world thatgamecompany has crafted. As my helpless character was thrown hundreds of feet through the air, I sat there with my mouth hanging open.
Here’s the thing, though. I wasn’t surprised by it. In fact, I had a quite a while to prepare for it. There’s no blood or gore or dismemberment, but, still, it shocked me on a fundamental level. I had come to care deeply for this featureless avatar of mine. His powerlessness against the gigantic blow that sent him careening toppling was as if someone had killed a family pet right in front of me.
Until then I was content thinking that “Yes, this game is beautiful. It is nuanced and unique.” However, once I realized just how much I had come to care for my little man, Journey became a great game.
At just about 4 hours long, it’s a short game, perhaps even shorter than Flower (thatgamecompany’s previous outing). Much like Flower, it is not the length of the game but the immense, stirring quality of it that takes the player aback. Every facet is honed and perfected beyond the caliber of many top-tier, retail games. The way the wind blows the sun-lit sand, how your character struggles against the incline of a steep hill, the way the music swells and fades with your actions. I never ever thought that I was being skimped by the game’s length.
On the other hand, some people might just not get it. And I can totally empathize with them. In all honesty, the majority of the game is nothing more than holding forward on the joystick. There is some platforming and some exploration, but the game is neither challenging nor briskly paced. If you want an arcade game or – well – any semblance of a traditional game, this is not it. You will get nothing more than a seedling of contemplation for completing the game.
In fact, having beaten it three times already, I realize that Journey suffers from of its own brilliance. For a game that is clearly meant to be replayed, the astounding wonder of the very first time will never be reached in subsequent turns. Granted, this is a backhanded compliment at worst, considering the power of that first time is unmatched in presenting the player with awe-inspiring moments.
One of the most important aspects of Journey is its multi-player component. It lends an air of community and good-will to the game that is, without exaggeration, totally unique. In Journey, another player can appear in your game. The catch is this: You cannot talk to or influence them. Your only options are jumping and making one of three non-vocal noises. You don’t even see their PSN name. From this limited palette sprouts a unity and charity that I have never seen before. All alone, you are simply content to be with another soul, walking side by side.
Suddenly, your journey is no longer alone. You bounce and “sing” together, trying to incoherently relay tricks and paths to one another. Sometimes you will simply just play around, running circles or tandem jumping. After a short bit, you realize working together yields benefits. When with another, your jumps recharge continuously (jumping is an expiring resource in Journey) and your scope of vision is greatly increased. Even if you know they way, you are given a direction now.
This multi-player interaction really gives Journey a wrinkle that is all its own. When the faint hint of noise or the glowing, white aura on the border of your screen appear, you being to hopefully scan the area for another companion. Once, I simply waited for my companion to catch up from a large distance, sitting down in the sand. Think about that. Sitting atop a giant dune in the vast, blinding desert, waiting for some unknown person to meet me and, if I’m lucky, make some faint noises in thanks. That is the power of Journey.
To describe Journey as a game does thatgamecompany a huge disservice. What they have made is a piece of art. An expression of strife, joy, perseverance and awe. Something that is meant to make you ponder the world about you and something that should change how you view the medium. They have been working towards this for some time, from Flow to Flower, and now, to Journey. There is a clear progression and a singular voice behind it all.
So, I hope it’s apparent why I felt so crushed when I saw my wanderer get tossed about like he was nothing. By the end of the game, you have actually gone on a journey of sorts. And my wanderer wasn’t nothing; he was something. Thatgamecompany expertly pulls all the strings again, producing an true masterpiece and worthwhile addition to the Games Are Art discussion. This is certainly a title that everyone should look into. It won’t be for everyone, but it will hopefully make everyone stop and think.