The thing wanders through the desolate desert. The terrain’s unsympathetic, high winds tustle about the sky. The robed creature floats on listlessly. It’s on a journey, following the trail of the wind. This is the enthusiastic beginning. The world is at its fingertips and their heart filled with an itch of curiosity. Move on. They soon find a companion to share the adventure with. Peaks, valleys, they share it all. Maybe some companions get left behind, while others stick together to the end. Some might work cooperatively and others will find their way. They’ll make nice, long scarves along the way, a memory of where they’ve been. Then, in the end, all things unfurl and they drop. The journey’s futile and everyone is working towards the same end. After their afterlife maybe they’ll live again.
Journey cuts out the fluff. It’s a simple thing. Movement is about the full extent of the action. Sometimes the player can jump around but not all the time. They can sing and wrap each other in their scarves, empowering one another to hop along. So they chirp back-and-forth, float, and roll through the sands, sauntering on towards the mountain peak.
There’s no need for extra context. All things are provided through the process of elimination. Go the wrong way and the wind pushes in the right direction. Follow the narrow path up the mountain. Venture on, collect scarves, sing a song, and carry on. It’s all laid out simply and there’s no way not to know. Get up the mountain.
Other travelers float in and out seamlessly. There’s no real competition. They can only band together. They’ll sing to the gods around hieroglyphs, work together to stealthily avoid dragons, and help one another build up jumps and find scarf fragments. These are the progress markers, a representation of their journey. Their scarf can be reduced by the couple enemies but otherwise there’s no conflict beyond the linear structure of the hero’s story.
At best, everything looks incredibly artful. The desert’s awash in warm colors and a painterly esthetic that matches the flow of movement. Each journey flutters from sand to water to iced over mountain passes. It only lasts a couple hours and in that time there’s a range of awe-inspiring landscapes and lively backdrops. It’s all very lovely.
Like other thatgamecompany videogames, Journey’s less interested in being a videogame. It would like to be taken as art instead but the game parts remain the only way to experience the artful pieces. The mechanics serve a functional purpose and stay out of the way. And it about ends there. Journey’s worth playing for the unique experiences offered but the actual involvement with the mechanics isn’t always engaging enough to match.