Thatgamecompany has a history of making games that bend the rules of what we traditionally associate with games, and their last PlayStation exclusive, Journey is no exception.
For the uninitiated, Journey is a two-ish hour adventure that features a unique twist on co-op: you can see you partner, and he can see you, but you can’t talk to each other, or even send PSN messages. All you can do is do little chirps at one another. Sounds strange right? It might sound even stranger that this foundation makes for one of the most emotionally resonant experiences in modern gaming. Let’s get to it.
Starting out as a red-robed figure meditating on a sand dune, you witness a star shooting out of a mountain far off in the distance. Your avatar stands up, and that’s all the explanation you get. You’re just supposed to walk through this trackless desert to that glowing crack in the distance.
As simple as it sounds, Journey is a powerful tale about life and death, self-sacrifice and triumph, all tucked into a healthy dose of discovery. Making you way across the desert and uncovering all the little pieces of backstory built into the world happens seamlessly. While the game is linear, you can still explore the different areas and everything has a nice organic flow to it.
It also helps that this game is incredible looking. Sand dunes shift under your feet, and every area has a distinct look to it, from wide open fields of endless sand, to a cavernous area that actually feels like you’re underwater. This is some of the most memorably imagery this year, all helped along by the moving score.
There isn’t much to Journey’s control scheme, but what is there is refined and crisp. You have three main actions in this game: walking, jumping and chirping. Your jump is affected by the length of your scarf: the longer the scarf, the further your leap carries you. Building up a massive scarf and floating for yards is incredibly satisfying, and next to skiing down sand, is one of the most fun things you can do in this game. There’s an extended section where all you do is glide down through ruins during a sunset, and when it’s over you’ll long to go back and experience it again.
The chirp ability is used to activate the semi-sentient scarf creatures that inhabit the ruins of this land, allowing you to build bridges and reach higher areas. It can also be used to rejuvenate the jumping ability of your partner in co-op.
At the heart of the experience that is Journey is the co-op, which can turn a solitary experience into one of wonder and friendship.
Shortly after you begin the game, Journey seamlessly allows another player to join your game. It doesn’t announce this to you, it doesn’t force you to adventure with them, they’re just there, doing their own thing. It’s up to you to decide whether or not you’ll spend time with them, but the right adventuring partner can enhance your game exponentially.
Considering that you can beat Journey in one sitting, it’s easy to stay with the same player the entire time, going through the game’s levels together. If you’re lucky, your newfound buddy will work with you, chirping to regenerate your jump or helping you discover hidden pieces to make your scarf longer. In a world where you expect to be called several racial slurs in one multiplayer match, putting people together in Journey brings out the willingness to cooperate in a person and struggling through the final act with another player makes the payoff that much more rewarding.
Your mileage with Journey will vary on your willingness to play nice with another person or getting lucky with who the games drops you in with, but as a two-hour adventure that has satisfying mechanics, a gorgeous world and a fresh new take on multiplayer, it’s hard to give Journey anything less than an S nomination.
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