To describe Journey is deceptively difficult; at it’s heart it’s an exploration game along the lines of Ico, but then there’s the beauty of its locomotion – a mixture of marathon walk and effortlessly flight – and then, most intangible, its emotive aura which evokes everything from isolation and sufferance, to joy and triumph. Not your traditional game then.
It’s no exaggeration to say that if Journey was an animated screen short it would be the talk of Cannes, the thinking person’s vote for best animation at the Oscar’s and discussed within all the ‘right’ circles at art institution across the world.
But it’s not a screen short, it’s an interactive art piece (if that isn’t too grandiose a term) which, alas, will be otherwise known as ‘just a game’ by a dismissive majority. For shame, we say.
Perhaps we shouldn’t expect anything less from Thatgamecompany, whose previous form includes the similarly hard to define Flower, a game based around the restoration of a spoiled environment by way of a flying petal.
Yellows, pinks, oranges, even midnight blues bring Journey’s world together perfectly as one man (or ‘being’ at least) marches ever onwards, through the desert tundra, in the direction of, what we assume, is a fallen star. It’s certainly bright, shiny and has fallen from the heavens at the very least.
The desert isn’t entirely barren however, magical creatures exist within it, each linked to this wanderer, and most, though by no means all out to assist him where possible. Magic carpets (for want of a better description) fling the being up into the air, while also charging his scarf – the length of which governs how long the wanderer can fly for.
He can also communicate in a rudimentary way, with the afore mentioned magic carpets and certain environmental artefacts, alike. Like the reawakening landscape in Flower, both will respond to the wanderer, either by reanimating or else bestowing further lengths of scarf to the player, so allowing him to fly for longer.
Once your scarf is sufficiently grown its possible to hardly ever have to touch the ground again. The beauty of gliding through air, then having your flight power restored mid-air by communicating with the games fauna nothing short of breathtaking.
The final stage, an assault of the mountain’s peak does tend to play the player – as opposed to the player playing it that is – but that’s only a scant criticism given that it’s an attempt to introduce peril into a game which, up until this point, has been more about joy than sufferance. There is the slight concern however that once Journey’s 2-3 hours have been experienced, it’s diminished slightly by replays – though at this price we’re not overly concerned.
Others might quibble at the undeniably ‘always pointing forward’ nature of the largely linear gameplay. Yes you will always largely be pointing the analogue stick in the direction of your goal – that shiny beacon of hope atop the mountain – but there’s so much more to the telling of Journey that those who make such a complaint are missing the point.
The chance to make your way through Journey’s environment with a fellow wanderer is something subtly brilliant too; the sense of kinship and achievement felt when progressing with a fellow traveller a further boon to what is already something of a unique experience.
Creationist myth, digital art or simply a rather cool alternative adventure game? Well given that games have yet to shake the ‘they’re for kids’ tag entirely – much to the continued frustrations of every gaming connoisseur – we’d have to go mostly with the latter, for now.
Given Journey’s minimalist artistic perfection however, could it be the title which finally shifts the balance and makes the art world take note? Given that it has been created for our enjoyment regardless, should we even particularly care?