Platforms: PC(Reviewed), PS3, PS4, iOS
Publisher: Annapurna Interactive
Journey casts players into the pointy walking appendages of a robe wearing humanoid figure who finds themselves venturing throughout an expansive desert with the clearly stated goal of reaching the top of a mountain that looms over in the distance. Thus establishing a journey for the protagonist to go through, an expansive odyssey that has them travelling steadfast through a shifting environment laced with the ruins of a once prosperous civilization. Spanning from stone structures, magical strands of cloth, and even machinery that continues to function while the civilization it served has been reduced to rubble.
It is a world that leaves a lot to the imagination, but to an extent that I am doubtful that there was much in the way of an explicit canon or storyline the player was intended to gather from exploring this world. A move that I personally appreciate more than something that obfuscates a narrative and makes the goal of the game being to untangle and understand the story developers wanted to tell. Instead, it seemingly offers players a world far more open to interpretation, serving as a sort of canvas for the player’s own creative concepts, and one positively flushed with beautiful imagery.
From the dunes stretching out to the horizons at noon, traversing through a demolished city drenched in the hues of the afternoon sun, or the cold darkness that encompasses the nighttime environments. It is all an exceptional example of so many disciplines of the visual arts, and the end result is nothing short of stunning. It is also one of the most deliberately and carefully constructed worlds I had the privilege of travelling through, with every area, scripted camera angle, and visual asset amounting to something that deserves to be framed as a piece of art in and of itself. Which I guess would also mean that Journey is akin to a moving painting or some such flattery.
Mechanically though, it is a game predominantly driven by walking and persevering through a wide yet linear pathway, with little in the way of hazards or obstacles to contend with, and only two commands that are used to any meaningful extent. The act of singing to activate mystical doodads the player encounters on their adventure, and the ability to expend energy stored in their scarf to jump and eventually soar through the sky freely in what is largely a cosmetic feature and comparable to a sprint function. However, the act of bursting into the air and flying freely throughout the world manages to remain a euphoric and rewarding one, helped by how it is an ability that the player must work towards by, what else, hunting for collectibles.
Throughout each of the game’s designated environments, there exist a number of symbols strewn throughout various nooks and crannies of this world, and by coming into contact with them the protagonist’s scarf elongates, allowing them to hold more energy they can expend in order to fly through the air with the greatest of ease. Energy that can only be recovered by coming into contact with strands of cloth, which magically and conveniently fills up the protagonist’s abstractly presented meter, and allows for them to indulge in a brief session of joyous flight once more.
This approach results in the ability of flight being a rather limited feature, and one I often felt paranoid about using unless I could see a way of refilling the meter, but there is a good argument to be made that flight feels so empowering and joyous precisely because of this limitation. By taking away something players grow to rely on and appreciate, they wind up valuing it more than they otherwise would have if it were, say, unlimited. So, in a sense, I do enjoy the way the designers implementing this flight mechanic, and believe that they used it to great effect throughout the game, allowing the player to feel powered or unpowered at appropriate intervals while using as few mechanics as possible… but remember what I said about symbols? Yeah, I’m not a big fan of those.
Anybody familiar with my reviews would probably gather that I have a thing for collecting things in games; that I enjoy and appreciate the accumulation of power, resources, numbers, and generalized stuff. However, this also comes with a very strong dislike of missing or failing to notice things, either due to my own inability, a lack of knowledge that there was anything I was supposed to be keeping an eye on in the first place, or the fact that the thing I missed could not be regained.
Journey managed to achieve all three, being a straightforward… journey from one point to another that nudges the player along a linear path, hides away a number of collectibles deliberately, and generally is not the type of game that I feel works with collectibles by being such a straightforward affair. Once I was aware that I was missing out on a significant amount of glowing orbs, and that my scarf, an abstract number and representation of power, was lower than it could have been, I became paranoid that the game was hiding things from me, and began conducting the remainder of my playthrough while alt-tabbing to an online list that spoils future locales.
As I discovered this, I was fully aware that these collectibles were ultimately pointless, that there was nothing locked behind a 100% ending or the like, and that doing this was detrimental to my experience. However, I still don’t like knowing that I missed things I shouldn’t have, and that the developers picked some particularly devious hiding spots for collectibles, such as placing them down certain routes in this game’s interpretation of Sand Hill from Sonic Adventure. I honestly would not care if these were just used for achievements or the like, as I am long past the days of, say, collecting every flag in the original Assassin’s Creed (something I totally did by the way), but the symbols in Journey have a semblance of gameplay importance, so I felt compelled to care about missing them.
To cut things a bit short, possibly appropriately so, Journey is a game that I find to be very admirable from an artistic level, and most especially a visual one, feeling like a game that was polished extensively from its original inception, with the end result being a glistening one… that I cannot help but express a good deal of irritation towards because I don’t think it handled collectibles very well. Still, I can easily see why the game was as impactful as it was back in 2012, though I cannot help but feel that I’m forgetting something… Oh, right, co-op.
Yeah, I got around to this game super late, and decided to start my playthrough at around 13:30 CST on October 3rd, on PC. Apparently nobody was online then, so this was a journey I experienced on my own… and I honestly forgot the game was even supposed to have co-op until after I finished it. In that case, then I definitely feel some justification in expressing umbridge over the collectibles, because nothing says ruining someone else’s experience by wandering off to grab doodads while your partner goes straight down the intended path.