Wind instruments play softly as the camera pans over a wind-swept sand dune before peering into the distant sun. String instruments crescendo as a sand storm covers what appear to be long-forgotten tombstones. The environment is harsh and remote with no signs of life.
Suddenly a shooting star sweeps across the sky. A robed figure with a magical scarf appears on screen as the music dies down, replaced with the sound of a gusty wind. The robed figure stands and begins her arduous journey across the vast, desolate landscape – which could just as easily be a desert on an alien world – without a single word being uttered.
You immediately start asking yourself several questions. Who is this robed figure? Where is she? Why is she here? Is she a human or some kind of alien? Is she even a she? Questions will keep piling up as you delve deeper into the game’s world only to be left up in the air most of the game as you’re stuck piecing the story together from wall art spread throughout the land.
To put it simply, Journey’s art direction, naturally-flowing level design, and graphically-taxing environments are all stunning. Rather than pounding you over the head with text, the game cleverly guides you with subtle visual cues – a faint light, fluttering fabric, and well-placed objects – which works especially well, since your aim is to explore an unknown world and attempt to uncover its mysteries.
The game’s musical score complements the art direction beautifully, at times eliciting a sense of mystery, wonder, and hope while at other points turning inward with a plaintive, melancholy vibe. Whether or not you end up playing Journey, I highly recommend listening to the soundtrack. It stands on its own as a masterful work of art.
In terms of gameplay, Journey takes a “simple is best” approach. The left analog stick is used to move the robed character and the right stick to pan the camera. The PS3’s Six Axis can also be used to control the camera. Aside from that, you can jump and briefly fly using magic from your scarf. The magic rapidly runs out, meaning that you will need to recharge the scarf from strips of cloth found in the world. Collecting glowing symbols throughout the world extends the length of your scarf, allowing the robed character to fly greater distances.
The robed figure can also sing. This ability can be used near large strips of cloth, transforming drab material into a vibrant burgundy. Bringing the dull cloth to life also transforms the world, releasing cloth, creating walkable cloth bridges to reach previously inaccessible parts of the environment, and opening doors for the player to advance to new areas.
Journey is less like a traditional game and more like an interactive work of art. Yes, there is a main character that you control and a basic plot, but the game elements are so simple that it feels like your job is merely to guide the robed figure on a path that has already been predestined. Players are basically just following along for the ride.
It is worth noting that the PS4 version is a remaster rather than a remake, so you’ll get the full HD experience at 60 frames per second, but the engine itself has not been rebuilt. It’s not pushing the PS4 hardware to its limits like it was pushing the PS3 hardware. However, it does still look good.
Journey elevates video games from the realm of entertainment to a different level entirely. It is a stunning work of multimedia and interactive art. Like any masterpiece – whether it is a painting, a film, a novel, or a video game – Journey leaves an indelible mark on those who experience it. It is a heartwarming, almost spiritual experience.