Journey review: a capital venture

Game Info
Platform PS3, PS4
Publisher Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer thatgamecompany
Release Date Mar 13, 2012

In 1972, NASA scientists stuck a plaque on the Pioneer 10 space probe with information about human body structure, our sun's relative location in the galaxy and a graphic depiction of hydrogen.

A crash course on human civilization for an alien race to discover. If NASA asked me today what they should send into deep space for a crash course on video games, I would suggest Journey.

Journey is a third-person adventure game. You command a red-robed being who wakes up in the middle of a desert, with no knowledge of how they got there. Buffeted by harsh winds on all sides, you have no choice but to push forward, up a massive sand dune. The summit reveals a sea of headstones scattered in the distance, leading toward a mountain with a powerful light shining from the top of it. Without a word uttered, your goal is clear.

That goal should be within reach to anyone who can hold a controller, courtesy of Journey's design. Controls are limited to moving, jumping and shouting. Shouting emits a long or short pulse from your body, collecting energy needed to navigate the desert's many obstacles. Control is explained with subtle diagrams at the beginning of Journey, so even controller-confused newcomers should have no trouble navigating its sandy expanses.


After that, you're free to wander. Journey's seemingly endless desert is reminiscent of an open-world game. Journey isn't that. You're subtly guided toward landmarks, often surrounded by open spaces to play around in. You're left to your own pace, though, free to collect energy, discover secrets and activate pieces of flowing fabric that allow you to progress deeper into the world.

That world is awe-inspiring. The bleak desert that makes Journey so identifiable from the start is soon populated with massive stone buildings and underground pathways as you delve deeper into the world, signs of a once-great civilization. Sand prevails, but it has a beauty of its own, flowing in the wind like water, pooling at your feet after a sharp fall. Any given moment could pass for a static work of art. It's a shame no one else is around to enjoy it.


But in the distance, approaching a menacing tower in the midst of a thunderstorm, I stumbled on another red-robed, flowing-caped wanderer. This unknown friend looked just like me. We could communicate, but only though in-game shouts, a long or short pulse emitted from our bodies. That was a good enough reason to stick together.

This was not an AI-controlled character. Journey provides multiplayer support by dropping other players into your game without your knowledge. There's no message that pops up, no on-screen indicator showing their username. You can't voice chat with them. And all of these limitations are brilliant.

Journey creates a cohesive world. A friend yammering about the raise they didn't get, or worse, a random tween blathering about the trophies they haven't earned so far, would ruin that immersion. By limiting interactions between players, Journey developer thatgamecompany has found a way for everyone to get along. There's no way to grief other players in Journey. The worst you could do is continually shout next to another player, but that gives them more energy. It's asshole-proof.

My silent friend and I climbed the menacing tower, using our shouts to guide one another in the right direction. Once at the top, we slid down a massive slope of loose sand, playful music lightening the mood of the harrowing task before us. We made it to the bottom safely, and my friend paused to sit down in the shade. He needed a rest, but I was ready to push forward. So I did, leaving him to find his own adventure. I've never had a better multiplayer experience with a random player in my life.

Journey is asshole-proof

Even alone, Journey's tale is dense with unforgettable moments. That slide down the slope is one of the lighter points, but there are also moments of danger (uncovering an ancient security system) and of friendship and discovery (meeting a flock of what can only be described as sand dolphins), all backed by a perfectly timed musical score. I felt like I was in control of a Pixar movie in Journey. Like the first half of WALL-E, awash in a near-silent mix of emotions, in a mysterious world that revealed only a small sliver of its past to me.

It's not a challenging world. You can't die in Journey. You can be hurt, which shortens your scarf, but you'll never have to reload a save. Journey isn't about that. It's about, well, the journey. The quest you take on. And the memories you gain along the way. It won't take more than three hours to make it to the end, but those three hours are more emotionally rich than 30 hours of the latest Zelda game. I played Journey in one sitting, and by the end I felt like I had just finished off a bottle of wine. I was weakened by what I had absorbed.

Wrap Up:


So what makes Journey ideal for that first contact with interstellar intelligence? It's universal. Without words, it promises to touch anyone that experiences it. Even watching someone else play leaves you gripped by the events on screen. Whether you've been playing games since childhood, play Angry Birds on the commute into work, or you just cruised the Xarthan Nebula with your new pulse engine and don't even know what a video game is, you'll be affected by this journey. It should be experienced by everyone.

Journey was reviewed using a PS3 download code provided by Sony Computer Entertainment. You can read more about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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