It seems like January 2014 has been the month when I finally play all those frequently talked-about indie games, like Gone Home. Brothers: A Tale of Two Sons as well, but I’ve not gotten to write about that somber story yet. And now Journey, which I bought last summer, but immediately put aside, as I had these visions of grandeur where I was going to find the perfect slice of time in my life where nothing else would distract me and I could devote every ounce of my being to the thatgamecompany’s impactful title, as I constantly heard it was best played in a single gulp. Well, after too much waiting for that dreamlike moment to pop up, I eventually just booted up the game the other weekend and devoured it happily in only a couple of hours.
Journey‘s story is interpretive. I see it as a spiritual sojourn, but others might think differently. You control a nondescript figure garbed in what might be ceremonious robes, alone in the desert, your only guiding light being a literal beam of light far off in the distance, emitting into the sky from a massively tall mountain. As you travel closer to it, you’ll acquire a scarf and the ability to jump in the air and glide for a short period of time. Eventually, you’ll leave the sandy desert for some other visually unique areas, but your goal remains the same, to get to that light. There’s no narration or spoken dialogue in the game–all story beats are visual–so you have to assume that you want to get to that light; either way, it is very enticing and seems to pull you towards it without you even knowing why.
To reach that light, you’ll run, jump, hover, slide, and solve some environmental and platformy puzzles to reach new areas and continue the *ahem* journey. How high you can jump and how far you can float is dictated by the length of your robed being’s scarf, which grows over time via…collectibles. I think. Wait, now I don’t even remember. Maybe it just got longer the further you played? Hmm. You can also interact with other scraps of fabric on the ground or in the air by holding in a big chirp and letting it loose near them; sometimes this would gather a bunch of scraps to you, and other times it would set them free to build a bridge down yonder. And that’s kind of it. There’s a surprisingly small amount of game mechanics to mess with, but they are more than enough to explore a world that is as large and wide as the sky overhead.
The reality is that Journey is two different experiences: a single-player excursion to that great big beam of light and a co-op struggle of two robed souls, unable to verbally communicate, but by each other’s sides the whole way through. Or as long as they can make it, seeing as I eventually teamed up with three separate players during my climb to the sky. You can only communicate with these other players by chirping, and you can strangely get a lot of mileage out of this mechanic. When excited by a big jump or epic sand slide, I mashed that chirp button like a maniac, shouting gleefully at my fellow scarf-dweller. When it was time to be sneaky and slow, I would only let out a single chirp to indicate it was time to move forward. In truth, the chirping became its own kind of meta game–and I loved every ounce of it. Once you complete the game, you gain access to who you played with, in case you want to add them to your Friends list, but based on some of their usernames–one was pretty offensive–I don’t think that will happen. And that’s awesome. I played a non-violent game with a bunch of nameless strangers, and that really helped make the experience something special rather than teaming up with BearKiller69 or whatever.
I suspect I’ll go through Journey again…at some point. Heck, there’s a Trophy I want that demands you return to the game after waiting at least a week. It was a very relaxing, very pleasing time that captured me in a bubble. It’d be really cool if it had couch co-op, but I understand why–and how–it couldn’t. It’s a beautiful adventure of epic proportions and shows that a videogame can have a fantastic sense of style, soaring music, staggeringly creative visuals, and absolutely no reason to shoot anything in the face. You should play it for the synergy between gameplay and music alone, but you should also just play it because it’s a very important tickmark in the industry, one that raises the bar for storytelling and is a ton of fun to boot.