Video Games Review: Journey (PS4, 2015)

What can I say about Journey that hasn’t been said a million times already? The little game that could, Journey was one of the PlayStation 3’s most pleasant surprises. Thatgamecompany’s unexpected masterpiece has now been ported to the PlayStation 4 with a few choice upgrades to entice new players into its beautiful, undulating world and take veterans on another long walk to the mountain.

Journey has been out a few years now but it remains the sort of game that, for newcomers, should be entered into with as little prior knowledge as possible. For those that want to remain unspoiled, understand that Journey is great and absolutely worth your money. Stop reading here and play it now. Thanks for stopping by.

You play as a mysterious cloaked nomad who awakens in a sprawling desert surrounded by what appear to be gravestones dotted among the dunes. In the distance, a mountain beckons, a mysterious light shining from its apex. With nothing else to guide your way, you begin the trek towards the mountain and stumble into one of the most gentle, moving stories a video game has ever told.

As you trek through any number of regions, the truly dogged adventurer may be able to piece together the story from solving various puzzles in the game’s eroded world, animated sequences between levels or hidden collectibles. For many, the mountain’s pull will be too great and it will draw them inexorably forward. This is one of Journey’s greatest accomplishments – there is no wrong way to play it. You are guaranteed a singular experience regardless of your playstyle. It’s also not a very long game either – I played through the game twice for review and wrapped it up comfortably in under two hours both times. You can literally sit down with this after dinner and knock it over before bed. Proof that making your game longer is not always the key to making it better.

Along the way you may run into other cloaked figures much like yourself. The first time I played Journey I initially thought that these were NPC’s, little helpers controlled by the computer. After a few minutes I realised no, that was another person. Another player out there in the world, completely anonymous, playing the game at the same time.

Having someone to make the trek with completely changes the kind of emotional punch that Journey packs. Played by yourself it is a study in loneliness and the solitude of death. By adding just one other player to the game it becomes quite the opposite. You pull each other forward, you stop and wait for them to catch up, you fear the worst when you are separated and you celebrate upon finding each other again. The crucial part of this arrangement is that there is no voice chat – it’s actually been hard coded out of the game. The only way to communicate in Journey is by tapping or holding the Square button which will cause your character to chirp and hoot.

Special praise must be given to composer Austin Wintory whose soundtrack is among the most gorgeous of any game in recent memory. It elevates every single moment of Journey’s story, creating moments of true awe and fear, of joy and bitter sorrow. It will be remembered as one of the all-time great video game soundtracks. In fact, here’s a link to Wintory’s Bandcamp where you can buy a digital version of the soundtrack for five bucks(!!!). Trust me – you’re gonna go looking for it later, let me save you some time.

But if you’ve played Journey before then you already know all of this. “What’s new in the PS4 version?” I hear you ask. The answer is … nothing, really. And in any other current-gen remaster that would probably count against it. Not so with Journey – there really isn’t anything you can add to the experience in terms of gameplay that would be of any benefit and the devs know it. What has been done here is largely graphical in nature – Thatgamecompany have retooled the game’s graphics to run in 1080p and at a silky 60fps. Textures have been given minimal tweaks and facelifts to make them pop a little more. Environmental effects like wind, fog, sand, smoke and snow all behave differently and more realistically. It takes a game that was already gorgeous and, somehow, makes it even prettier.

Journey is one of the best examples proponents of the “games as art” argument can point to. It is elegant in its simplicity, astounding in its scope and it’s ideas are so resonant you’ll hear them ringing in your ears for days after. It conducts itself in the manner of a silent film, embodying the adage that less is more. If you own a PlayStation 4 you need to own Journey. If you’re looking for an experience that is different from the endless march of AAA grimdark blockbuster titles, you need to play Journey. If you like video games at all, you need to play Journey. A masterpiece.

Review Score: 10/10
Highlights: Beautiful artwork; Incredible music; A master class in game design
Lowlights: Makes all other games look bad in comparison
Developer: Thatgamecompany
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: July 21, 2015
Platform: PlayStation 4 (via PSN)

Reviewed on PS4


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David Smith

David Smith is the former games and technology editor at The AU Review. He has previously written for PC World Australia. You can find him on Twitter at @RhunWords.