Critical Play: Journey

Game: Journey

Developer: Thatgamecompany

Platforms: PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Windows, iOS

Journey is a single-player game developed by Thatgamecompany, focused on the audio and visual journey of an unnamed, hooded character traveling towards the light at the peak of a distant mountain. There is no indicator of strict save points or chapters, but the story progresses as the player encounters new areas and sees the visual history of the civilization that was once there. Accompanying them along their path is mainly the atmosphere of the area, coupled with  thoughtful orchestral tracks written by composer Austin Wintory. As a player, you start off simply, only being able to move and “call” in short or long bursts. As you traverse the areas, you gain the ability to be boosted into the air by fluttering fabric-like creatures, and can stay in the air for longer as you gain more length to your scarf.

There is no verbal or visual guide to your goal, other than the ever constant reminder of the shining mountain peak in the distance. However, the true underlying world and story is discovered as the player wanders each area (or walks, if we are considering this as a walking simulator). Nooks and crannies can lead to another addition to your cape, a puzzle to solve, a new path, or even simply a different (but often beautiful, given the graphics of the game) view of the area. This has the game lean heavy on the “discovery” type of fun from the MDA framework, but in wandering the area, there is also “sensation” and “narrative” fun involved. By taking your time to be curious, you get to experience all the musical, visual, and lore details of the game. You get to interpret all of that yourself as you traverse the vast expanse, giving your mind something to chew on. Thus, “walking” and exploring becomes essential to experience the full depth that this game has to offer.

At a later point in the game, you might run into a companion who looks like you, and is seemingly on the same journey that you are on. This is where Journey is a bit different from other “walking simulators,” in that you might gain a sense of fellowship with this new, anonymous traveler. In this seemingly empty world that grows on you, traveling with this person might also grow on you too, and make your journey a little less lonely. Journey has been out for many years now, and past players often felt close to those anonymous players who joined them for part of their journey. Journey makes “walking” a rich, musical, and wondrous experience, giving you the space to interpret your own personal journey as you wish.

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