Journey is a game that puts you into the role of a walking, beeping carpet. No I’m not kidding. You find yourself in the middle of a desert with nothing around you except a vague mountain-shape in the distance emitting light. You quickly move toward it! Or not. You could just sit there if you want (hit select).
Journey is advertised as an exploration game with no prompts except the mountain in the distance. I was intrigued by how thatgamecompany could make such a concept interesting, and unfortunately my fears were somewhat founded, though the experience was still mildly enjoyable while it lasted. If you ever wanted to explore unpleasant survival situations, this is the game. Hot desert, cold stormy mountaintops, and of course dark caverns with evil beasties.
Along the way, provided you’re hooked up to PSN, you will meet random people and help each other succeed at… stuff, such as jumping farther. There’s really no rhyme or reason for or against co-op in this game. While a partner can speed up your progress through the levels, the game is so short that having a partner could be counted as a detriment to the overall experience. You can’t team up with friends and can only partner with random people, though you at least discover their identities in the end-game screen. There is no dedicated co-op function beyond meeting passerby throughout the game. This makes staying together with particular co-op partners a chore, since they can be easily lost if you mess up on a platforming section. Add on that you can only meet one person at a time, removing any chance of hilarious amounts of identical walking carpets, and the loneliness really starts to set in. Having removed the chance for ridiculous human spontaneity, the game is forced to a near-identical progression of events in each playthrough. Unfortunate, and probably an intentional part of the design.
The protagonist’s scarf lets you jump when it glows- allowing you to flap about like a bird, which is more exciting than it should be. It doesn’t usually last long however. You’re only given the ability to jump when you need it.
Sliding down sand-dunes is the best part of the game. The almost-sandboarding easily picks up the pace from the quiet traversal during other parts and provides a fun change in gameplay. It seems like an odd decision, in a relatively open “exploration” game like this, to give you limited ammunation for your jump function.
No dialogue, no directive. You can spend as long as you want screwing around, though it gets boring quick since it’s mostly just desert. While the game certainly is pretty, it’s still just a pretty desert/cave/mountain, and there’s really not much there beyond one or two secrets. In fact, the game is a lot more linear than advertised. While you might think you’re free to explore, it’s actually just very wide areas with invisible walls, holding next to nothing in them.
Considering how short and linear it is, it’s not quite worth the price of admission. They try to tell a story, but it’s simply too complex (something about a destroyed civilization and the main character being the avatar of their rebirth) without dialogue or exposition. Thatgamecompany has always been known for simple, expressive games, but this time they seem to have abandoned some of the experience for narrative, which is unfortunate. In my opinion I don’t think every subsequent game they make has to be bigger than their last, but they felt the need to do so here. I mean, Groundhog Day? Don’t they know time loops never end well? Or end for that matter…
I came into this expecting a profound experience, like what I experienced with Flower. While I did discover a flower in the desert (yay cameos), the experience wasn’t nearly as memorable for me as Flower was. But hey, maybe I’m just partial to flight sims.
Journey was developed by Thatgamecompany.