Polygon 2012 Games of the Year #3: Journey

Journey is that rare game that achieves more by doing less. Journey's story is tightly knit and yet wide and deep enough to be something soulful and lasting, an unforgettable experience.

Journey's accomplishments are no small task. A team of eighteen led by creative director Jenova Chen worked for three years, simplifying and paring down its initial larger, more detailed vision into something more distilled, smaller and sharper.

Journey is an easily digestible three hours, but those hours are packed with meaning. We have come to think of "content" as meaning "more," a game loaded down with explorable areas and secret stashes of loot. But what Journey lacks in "stuff" it makes up for in its takeaway, in the notion that every player will walk away having been told a different story and having endured a unique struggle.

Unraveling the ancestors' story and deciphering their fate is as entirely up to the player as guiding their robed figure through the sandy and snowy world. This emotional arc is heightened by composer Austin Wintory's score, which slips seamlessly between joy, sorrow and wonder as Journey's atmosphere changes. Both world and score live and breathe as one, weaving an immersive experience as supple as its cloth creatures.

Journey turned the game back on players, using an external experience to brew an internal one.

Journey will make players feel small, often scared and nearly always lost. We are given one direction only: Go to the mountain. Never again are we told where to go, or what to do or where to hide when the great stone guardians begin prowling the snowy mountainside with a hunger for the cloth scarves streaming out behind us. This feeling is lessened only by the presence of a companion, a companion whose identity we are not given.

The nature of progression changes drastically in the company of another traveler, as players will either have someone there depending on or working alongside them, or perhaps even working through scenarios in tandem. Communication between players is limited to the "shout," a chiming chirp of a sound that will light up statues or reanimate frozen cloth. This absolute minimal mode of communication forces players to suss each other out through sound and action, rather than muddle the purity of the experience with spoken language.

Journey did what other games have tried to do, and what many games should strive toward: Journey turned the game back on players, using an external experience to brew an internal one. Boasting a beautifully simple yet dense narrative, an ethereal look and score and a multiplayer experience unlike any other makes Journey a game worth talking about and playing for years to come.

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