The moment Journey came out, it was an instant success, with fans and critics alike singing praises for thatgamecompany’s new creation. Like with their previous hit, Flower, the main qualities pointed out in reviews were the unique art style, the sheer beauty of the scenery, and the minimalistic storytelling. Despite the short length (reviews mentioned 2 hours), people around the world loved it, fans drew pretty art based on the game’s world and characters, and word of mouth contributed greatly to its success. And now, it’s my turn to share my thoughts of one of the 2012 gaming phenomenons with you.
Platform: PlayStation Network
Original release: 2012
I got my hands on this game thanks to my girlfriend’s sister who gave her a PSN voucher as a birthday present, with the explicit instruction to buy Journey. The $15 price the game launched, and is still sitting at, didn’t seem justified to me, considering its length. I was going to wait for it to drop to at least $10, but, thanks to the aforementioned circumstances, I was apparently going to play it in the year it actually released.
In the beginning, I thought that people had praised this game for a good reason. The visuals, while not going into much detail, were really beautiful, much like in Flower. I spent a minute or two to admire the scenery before even starting the game. And this stayed consistent throughout the game – every new environment was as pretty as the previous. The atmospheric music and sound effects also impressed me… And the protagonist, with his strange clothes, long scarf, and Final Fantasy black mage-like face, seemed mysterious and cool. But we gamers know that all these things complement a game, they are the side-dish to the meat…
- A visual pleasure
- Interesting hidden things to discover
- You can meet and have fun with strangers on the internet
- Absolutely no challenge, practically no gameplay
- Story is pretentious, but ultimately unfulfilling
- You only communicate with your partner via sounds and movement – that’s supposed to be an advantage, but instead diminishes the experience
A BASIC TALE OF A PILGRIMAGE
Journey’s story is minimalistic, but some thought has definitely been put into it. You wake up in a desert, surrounded by endless sands, with a lone mountain peak in the distance, which is apparently your goal. Just a bit later, you will find out that this journey is transcendent, religious in its essence. The higher powers compel you to reach the peak, the ultimate goal. And you will have to endure many hardships in order to do so. But it’s not all bad – you will meet companions and strange creatures along the way, you will help each other in your quest. In the online mode, you will meet real people playing the game at the same time.
After each distinct part of the journey, a stylised drawing will tell you what lies ahead. And you must carry on to the eventual conclusion. A conclusion that is quite personal – some will like it, some will not. I’m in the latter camp. It is just not for me, I do not approve of the general message it carries. Perhaps it is thatgamecompany’s vision of human life and its meaning? I cannot say more without spoiling the game…
But, in essence, there really isn’t too much of a story – at least one explicitly stated. You are free to fill the blanks yourself – what kind of world this is, what kind of creatures the protagonist and his tribe are, what the origin of the higher powers is, what the cloth creatures you will encounter are… It’s one big mystery of a game. Shadow of the Colossus was a clear inspiration – in this and other aspects. Except Shadow of the Colossus’ ending provides much closure, Journey’s – not so much.
YOU ARE ALONE… SO ALONE
Yes, if you play online, you will meet companions much like you on your journey… But they come and go – if either of you gets left behind for a while at some point, you will find yourself with a new companion soon after. Unless you stick close together, you can’t really go through the whole journey as friends, as a party. Journey’s harsh reality will separate you the first chance it gets, and you will be paired up with another random person, starting your relationship from scratch.
Not that there’s much of a relationship to be spoken of… You can only communicate with the other player via usage of a morse code of sorts – pressing Circle will emit a tone and a symbol above your head (different for each of the two players). The longer you hold the button before releasing it, the longer the tone. It’s kind of cutesy at first sight, but essentially useless. Of course, people who are creative and good enough of a team could make great use of it, like play a song together! But it’s still rather weak. I understand that it is fully intentional and that that is simply how these creatures communicate with each other, but it just doesn’t resonate with me. I find it a bit childish – not that this could not be one possible theme of the game, too.
So, ultimately, you are alone. You walk your own path, loosely guided by the higher powers, you encounter other pilgrims and creatures (the playful cloth creatures being actually one of the high notes in the game), but you soon part ways with them and it’s time to go on on your own merits. The vast environment imbues a feeling of insignificance, you are a small person against a huge world full of harsh tests, but you still passionately pursue your goal, you want to reach that peak and experience the glory of having achieved it. Is it a life worth living?
GAMEPLAY? IT’S MOSTLY MISSING
Journey’s biggest problem has to be the gameplay. It’s just really dull. A lot of the time, you just hold the stick pushed forward as you progress. Your abilities are limited to jumping… And that’s it, unless you count the aforementioned communication with your partner. And even jumping is not possible unless you have “scarf power” to do so. It’s acquired in various ways, such as coming into contact with scarf pieces floating around at certain points (that reminds picking up petals in Flower) or simply being close to your companion. The more scarf power you have, the higher you can jump. But a jump consumes the scarf power and, once it’s depleted, you can’t jump until you replenish some. You jump higher by holding the button longer, but there is a limit to how high you can jump. Your scarf also grows the more you play.
The difficulty is non-existent. I don’t know if it’s even possible to die in Journey… In my experience, I do not think so. The worst that can really happen is losing your companion and the game replacing him/her. Then you just carry on until you eventually succeed. The huge, mostly empty environments will undoubtedly remind you of Shadow of the Colossus if you’ve played it, but sadly there are no boss battles or any kind of battles whatsoever (although you WILL be attacked by a massive monster – perhaps it is thatgamecompany’s way of paying homage to the PS2 classic).
The worst thing about Journey is its short length. There is no excuse for a first-time player, and one who does not really rush through games, like me, to have his first playthrough last double digit numbers. Yes, the 2-hour length I had read about turned out to even be a generous estimate. Indeed, the game is meant to be played more than once, and, thanks to the multiplayer specifics, every next experience will be slightly different, your scarf will also keep growing and eventually you may even become “godlike” (I know I saw someone that way), you could also have fun trying to get all the trophies (most require specific actions you likely won’t do at once). But that’s just a poor excuse for making such a short game. Even just twice the content and playtime would have made the game much better, but it wasn’t meant to be.
ARTISTIC AND TECHNICAL BEAUTY
We come to Journey’s main strength – its sheer beauty. As soon as you boot the game, you will notice it. True, you are a lone figure in a vast desert, but I’m sure you will quickly notice and be impressed by the sand’s gleam, for instance. Everything, absolutely everything in the game is drawn nicely and is pleasant to look at. The protagonist’s design works nicely, even if it is reminiscent of Final Fantasy black mages or Star Wars jawas.
The art direction deserves praise, but so does the graphical prowess. Much like in Flower, things are not only beautiful, but also technically impressive. The lighting, the shadows, the animations, they are pretty much flawless. The artists and graphic engineers deserve a lot of praise, as their work contributes the most to making Journey what it is.
The music by Austin Wintory complements the artistic beauty nicely. It is mostly atmospheric, never standing out too much to distract you from the overall experience. The end credits theme is very pleasant, but, as usual, I have chosen something else so as to not spoil that moment. The song I’m including in this review is named “Road of Trials.”
WAIT FOR A PRICE DROP
$15 is just asking too much for Journey. As pretty and mysterious as it is, again, one playthrough lasts less than 2 hours and there is no real challenge. Even $10 is asking a lot, considering the fact that much longer and more entertaining games like Scarygirl cost as much. If I were you, I’d wait for a 50%-off sale at the least. Or you could get the Journey + Flower + Flow retail version, coming up in the end of August, priced at $30. At least that one has two additional games that are better than Journey, as well as some nice extras. Sadly, it won’t be available in Europe.
I frankly do not understand the massive worship Journey received by just about everyone who played it. Are video game critics that easy to impress – throw something beautiful and mysterious at them, and they will overlook the fact that it’s so short and there’s barely any gameplay and award it 10s? I like Journey in a way, it sure is a joy to look at, the setting is also quite cool. And I can see why the little story there is would add to that appeal – it is rather thought-provoking with its vagueness. But I cannot overlook the major flaws. The sum of all this comes to just slightly above the average. Journey is a nice, fascinating interactive experience, it’s simply not a particularly good game.
FINAL SCORE: 5.5/10
Yeah that is my main problem with Journey too, the gameplay is bland and dull to the point it’s almost nonexistent. All you do is walk around and jump around…that’s it.
I still gave this game a perferct 10 because I admire games that defy conventions, and this game in unlike anything i’ve played before. What you see in this game is really touching, and encourages multiple playthroughs because of it’s simplicity and beauty. Although I believe it’s not 2001 or Tree of Life complex, the story in Journey and the way it’s told is as unconventional as it is complex.
I personally didn’t enjoy the game, but I admire the creativity put into it and it’s high aspirations. It’s exactly like 2001, critics praise it while people normally say it’s a very boring film…
Great review dude
“But we gamers know that all these things [visuals, atmospheric music and sound effects] complement a game, they are the side-dish to the meat…”
This makes it very clear: you demand a compelling gameplay.
I think you don’t understand why this game gets that much praise because of your strict definition of a “game” (or fun): it needs to have compelling gameplay (challenge, to some degree), it needs to satisfy you in the way it delivers on the narrative, the way it achieves make-believe (fantasy) and discovery. But fun as mindless pastime – oh no, that’s not your thing.
Which is fine! I’m just observing, not judging.
Journey is a game that you can enjoy just by spending time with it. It encourages its players to come again and dive into this world – get mesmerized by the “complementing” visuals and music, by the very visuals and music, the overall atmosphere – because it is so short. I know I wouldn’t want to return to the world if a playthru lasted 2o hours or more.
I understand that you’re unhappy with the “price point / one playthru time” ratio, and I agree that $15 is too much to ask for that. If you don’t like to play the game again, I can understand that as well. But 5.5 – whoa! (›‹ )
Thanks for your comment! Yes, I can see why many people would consider the game as amazing as they do. But gameplay is not the main thing I demand, there’s a reason why story and characters always come first in my reviews here. Journey’s story, however, failed to impress me, too. And I use 5 as an average, so 5.5 is slightly above. It seems the game just didn’t resonate with me the same way as with most. I couldn’t help comparing it to Flower and Flower was just so much more fun while retaining the same overall “artsy” feeling.
I get why you feel fl0w and Flower to be more of a game now – it’s because they don’t pretend to tell a “complete” story, with start and finish or even multiple acts. They are focusd, literally based, on the gameplay. Journey indeed is simpler in that you “move in one direction and jump occasionally” most of the time. Yet, it also depends on the way you personally play a game.
See, I’m a “discoverer” and a “collector”. That’s what I enjoy most in games. So in Journey, I don’t rush through the scenery – I explore every “room” in great length and find great satisfaction in that. It’s a bit like Shadow Of The Colossus: the first time I played it I rushed from colossus to colossus and was a bit disappointed in the end. But every successive time I played it, I took my time and actually enjoyed the scenery which looked so desolate and non-rewarding at first. At first! But oh well …
I’m also a discoverer, I like exploring in games, not to an extreme, but close enough. I’m not a collector at all, though, I’d much rather play through two games in the time it’d take me to collect everything in one. I didn’t rush through Journey, I did take the time to enjoy the scenery – and it is indeed one of the game’s strong points, as I already said in the review.
The obvious Shadow of the Colossus influence is probably one thing that actually detracts from the experience, if you’ve played SotC. You just can’t help comparing, and SotC does it all better.
I’ve always argued that story is at least as important as gameplay in games (it depends on the game, of course, but just in general). Again, the story Journey was trying to tell didn’t quite appeal to me.
I don’t know if you’ve seen it but Penny Arcade’s ExtraCreditz has a quite interesting analysis of Journey. I think this may be interesting to you.
Your 5.5 makes a lot more sense to me now, btw. Five being the average. Dammit, I once rated games as idealistically as you – what has happened?
That was interesting, although I think they are looking at Journey in a strange way. If anything, reducing it to a patterned tale is actually taking credit away from the game, rather than giving it more. I have to say I was unaware of that pattern, but it’s almost all-encompassing, you could try to fit any game into it, and you’d be successful with most. It’s certainly not what makes a game special.
Also, how did my score suddenly start to make sense to you? I thought it was related to that video, but apparently not.
No, I didn’t mean to say “the score makes sense after I watched this video”. It rather made sense after I’ve been contemplating about your initial reply. It had nothing to do with the video.
And yes, the “Hero’s Journey” pattern can be found in most games, I’d agree with that. But Journey isn’t just a game that’s reduceable to this pattern – it is the purest representation of that pattern. I don’t think the average gamer has any benefit from that, but it’s quite interesting from a game design and story-writing standpoint. It certainly was for me.
This is not just a game, this is a masterpiece of art.
Expecting a game like this to have a challenging gameplay, a complex story, BOSSES, etc, is like expecting to laugh all the way through a Saw movie, for instance, and then complain there wasn’t comedy enough. Journey is not about the challenge or anything as the common games are. It’s the… the “connection” between the player and the game, between a player and the other. It’s the feeling, you know? It’s about interacting with your partner even though the only means of communication are these tones. It’s about the meaning, the hardship of the journey to the peak of the mountain (NO, not hardship as gameplay challenge, but the hardship for the character themselves). It’s about how, if they stay together, they can endure the cold of the mountains, they can avoid the creatures that seek to destroy them.
As limited as communication is, if both players are connected enough to each other, those simple sounds can have all the meaning that speaking has. I could tell for sure when my partner was calling me, showing me a better way, a hidden glyph, apologizing or simply enjoying the view as I was. Not to mention how fun it was dancing it the air while going up the tower! Words are not the only way of communication. Interaction in Journey is much like how animals interact with sounds and moves, and with no words.
Journey might have only a 2 hours long gameplay, but it was BY FAR the most touching game I’ve ever played. Dragon Age: Origins did wonders making me feel like I was trully in the world of Thedas, but I have never felt as happy and in love in a game as I did in Journey. Most beautiful game I’ve ever seen. Rate 10/10 for me, and I’d have paid $30 if I could, $15 doesn’t make up for this piece of art.
Journey seems to want you to focus on the similarities between people, and achievement through cooperation instead of competition. The simplified means of communication, the sparse setting, and using abstract, genderless characters is a way of removing distractions and stripping things down to what’s important in the context of the game, which is the journey and sense of belonging you get through it, I guess. That’s just my interpretation from reading about the game though, I haven’t actually played it
That’s quite nicely put, and, to some extent, it’s true. Still, 90 minutes, in which you’ll probably meet 5 other people briefly, sadly do not amount to much of a “journey,” as much as the fans like to claim that you must replay the game many times to truly get the intended experience out of it. Anyway, the game’s reduced to 10 bucks as part of the Christmas sale, $7.35 for PS Plus members. The latter price is actually worth it, in my opinion (the former – almost so). So you could give it a shot, just don’t expect too much.
I haven’t played this game so I can’t say much but I’ve seen gameplay and I never really got it either. The fact its artsy doesn’t earn it any bonus points in my book (or very few) there are games that have great art and are very different from the norm *cough jet set radio future cough* but still gameplay and not cripplingly short length.
I also think its trying way to hard to specifically be different and artsy rather than it being byproduct of the creators vision.
Have you played the other 2012 critically acclaimed game yet, the Walking Dead?
I just started The Walking Dead – actually on the very day you posted this comment, heh.
considering what you value in gaming I think you’ll LOVE it