I’ve put off writing a review of Journey
for quite some time.
Partly that’s due to the fact that the experience is not immediately quantifiable in the regular terms we use to talk about a game. But also, and more importantly, my attempt to write about it was staunched by the seemingly endless flow of overwhelmingly positive reviews passing like a tidal wave through the internet. More than any other title in recent memory, Journey
has stoked the fires of creativity in gaming writers across the world, leading to an unusually high level of lyricism and emotional language as they try to verbalise their time with the game.
The result is has been a joy to read and the scores are extremely impressive for a microbudget indie, racking up a score of 92 on everybody’s favourite aggregator Metacritic
. But there’s also another reason for the exaggerated eloquence of these accounts – no one really know what to write about it.
To a large degree, that’s because there isn’t really a lot to Journey
. You’ll start in a desert and move forward towards the light atop a distant mountain. And that’s basically it. Along the way you’ll sometimes float and fly with the aid of a magical ribbon, your progress will be mildly complicated by some basic platforming and you might run into a companion, though your actual interaction will be minimal at best.
The normal elements we associate with games – a level of challenge and an associated sense of accomplishment – are all but absent and in their place is an evocative ‘experience’. Journey takes your nameless and all but faceless protagonist on an incredibly linear journey to an end point which could charitably be called derivative.
What’s more, this ‘experience’ will take you a mere handful of hours to complete – from its mysterious beginning to that esoteric end. There isn’t even much of a narrative to hold your attention – levels are broken up by wordless glimpses of a tapestry which seems to show your heroes journey, with an early foreshadowing of the finale.
At least it is all quite marvellously pretty – with special attention paid to the shifting sands where you’ll spend much of your time. Individual particles shift under your weight and glisten in the ever-present sunlight as your character responds wonderfully to gravity – struggling up a dune to slickly surf down the other side. The lines of the character are only vaguely sketched – he’s a swirl of robe, a stark black visage and two glowing eyes – but nevertheless there’s personality there. The levels have a grand scale to them, complete with the vestiges of a world swallowed up by the sand and populated with fanciful creatures composed of the games ubiquitous ribbons.
The controls are disarmingly simple, centred on a shout and a jump with no visible HUD. The first activates items like ribbons and the second can cause you to fly for a brief period, provided you have enough energy – which is displayed by the amount of light in your scarf-like ribbon. A potential companion – an anonymous PSN user – can help to replenish your stocks of energy if they wish with a shout and companions can demonstrate techniques to each other, without any direct communication.
The experience is certainly unique and never less than beautiful, a lengthy surfing level culminates with a delicious slalom through a sand swallowed temple during a breathtaking sunset which sets the ground aflame. Later moments have you dodging monstrous snake like foes lit with a baleful single eye or battling your way through storms that whip the snow into an artful frenzy.
is attractive, impeccably designed and features a unique approach to multiplayer. However, as a game, it’s something of a non event. Failure is next to impossible and the few moments where you come under attack feel, in retrospect, thoroughly artificial. You are supposed to suffer in order to feel the arduous weight of the adventure. Likewise the interactions with other players often feel far too structured, crafted to create an emotional impact rather than giving the player any real freedom.
Finally, there’s the length. You could easily see everything Journey
has to offer in less than three hours, and speed runs could likely knock many minutes off that time. Arguably, that’s not the point – you are supposed to linger in the arid beauty of the thing, to drink in its imagery and ponder on its inscrutable pseudo plot. And it’s certainly mesmerising enough while it lasts but there’s a serious lack of what we commonly consider to be serious gameplay in this lyrical experience.Journey
is doubtless a work of digital art; breath-taking in its visuals and in the scope of its ideas and featuring a majestic score. But behind that impressive frame, it’s a linear, controlled and all too brief experience, eminently slick but bereft of much in the way of real content. The journey itself is worth taking for the curious and some will no doubt find it a transcendent couple of hours while others will wonder what all the fuss is about. Either way, I can’t see many people returning to this unique world after their first playthrough. Consider well before you buy.Journey is out now for PlayStation Plus users and available to all in the coming days.