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Game Review | Journey

This is how your travels begin in Journey

Game summary: A robed figure in a desolate world undertakes a journey towards a distant, glowing mountain. (IMDb)

Having owned a PS3 and Journey being one of that system's fastest-selling titles, it would make sense to think that I would've played this before now, but that wasn't the case. I certainly knew about the game and wanted to play it, but having just as large a backlog of games to play then as I do now, it never happened.

Fortunately, Sony gave the game away free with the Nathan Drake Collection of Uncharted games as part of an effort to keep people at home while COVID-19 swept across the globe and I finally had a copy of it. Knowing it was a pretty short game helped push it to the top of my list, especially as I haven't really been using my PS4 Pro all that much recently.

The biggest takeaway I had from Journey was how much it reminded me of Abzû, even if the environments were almost complete opposites, from a water world in that game to mostly desert here. I then found out some of the same people worked on both games and the links between the two become more concrete.

Both games deal with what are effectively post-apocalyptic settings, with ruins, lost civilisations, murals and dialogue-free story-telling present in both. There are obviously differences in how these are presented, mainly due to the settings, but they are similar enough that if you enjoy one, you will almost certainly enjoy the other.

As for how Journey controls, you guide a red-cloaked being around a landscape deserted almost entirely apart from some cloth-based creatures who can help guide you in certain respects along the way. There's a lot of walking and climbing, but the most enjoyable part comes when you get to jump and slide downwards - the contrast between the slower climbs and faster descents helps break things up nicely.

The best sections were actually when the larger descents occur, with you speeding down slopes and enjoying yourself as you shoot through ruins and passages towards whatever awaits. There's no difficulty to these sections, but they're so freeing that it makes you wonder why there aren't more games that allow traversal like this.

The only real downside to how Journey plays out is that just a handful of sections feel very 'videogamey' and not like a natural progression through the environment like the majority of the game. These bits are easy enough to play through and are executed well enough, but they do just break that serene flow to events when you can suddenly find yourself playing a simple platform game.

There is a unique twist on multiplayer here too, with you occasionally being joined by other red-robed beings that are actually other players, even if, rom their perspective, you're joining their game. There's no easy way to communicate other than a simple signal or drawing a path in the surface under you, but you don't really need to interact that much either, so it's not a real issue.

That small dark speck in the middle of the screen? That's your character in Journey

More experienced players can help out those on their first time through, or it can be just two people working together to get through the game - although whether Journey lets you keep playing with the same person from when you first meet them can be random thanks to how the game transitions from location to location.

As for how Journey looks, it may be fairly simple in terms of style, but it's still visually stunning. How the wind can blow and shift the sand underfoot, changing the heights of the dunes and blowing dust into the air, is very satisfying, as is how your robes ripple in the winds you encounter. I don't think there are too many games that can compare with some of the effects this game pulls off, despite even the PS4 version now being 5 years old.

Despite how impressive the game's visuals are, the score is arguably even better. With no dialogue and very little needed in the way of other audio, the music has to carry the load in terms of setting the right tone and atmosphere, which it does perfectly from start to finish, especially the final piece of music after you reach the end of your journey.

Finally, I feel it should be noted that Journey is a very short game, lasting only a couple of hours. It's also not the kind of game that I would personally play repeatedly, as the story is entirely linear and there's only some limited exploration or experimentation in how you communicate with other players to add variety when going through a second time.

Being short isn't bad by any means, but much like Her Story, I'd want to leave quite some time between trips through the game. It's not to say that Journey suffers from poor repeat value, it's more a case of needing to build up that sense of wonder from discovering everything you encounter that going through too often in a short space of time could potentially ruin.

Journey would've been described best as a title to be experienced rather than played if not for a couple of sections that feel very 'videogamey' in comparison to the rest of the... journey. It's not a title I'd replay repeatedly, as it is quite short, but it would have to be considered a definite must-play at least once even if just for the stunning visuals and even more incredible score.


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