That Game Company
Music by Austin Wintory
That Game Company, more than any other, has the power to directly inject deep emotional experiences into basic concepts and simple gameplay. I'll write more about their mind-control mastery in a non-review setting.
Journey is a 3D platformer, with a simple mode of interaction and a beautiful cellshade/textural/particle environment. I'm including particles in that list because they really do play as prominent a role in the creation of the environment as anything else. And that environment is as compelling, intriguing and engaging as the 'forgotten world' of Studio Ico.
The world of Journey is a harshly beautiful combination of sands, monoliths and ruins; graves and prayers. You take the role of a red-cloaked traveler, making your way towards a lighted mountaintop. You begin with no more exposition than that. The world is a mystery-shrouded sea of sand before you. That sand moves around you, in waves and torrents from the wind and ripples from your footsteps. Light acts in a similar way, with grains and fragments acting like fluids. Cloth plays a huge role throughout the game, as the screenshot above shows, and it makes another contrasting element that is as important to the world as the shifting sands. These three components, cloth, light and sand make for a contrasting, and again symbolic, place.
Along the way you find insights into the world, yourself and your journey. It's presented in a symbol-rich language or ideograms and music, with the cryptic regularity and consistency that makes up the truest, deepest layers of myth and language. It all feels so appropriate, so real. You interact with the world through a resonant call, chirp or shout (whatever you want to dub it) that creates a little wave out from you to activate objects.
As you progress and climb higher towards your goal, you're faced with perils and challenges to overcome, but none of them can end your journey. It makes for an incredibly accessible experience, something more akin to an interactive emotional story (without story) than a traditional video-game. Your Journey is perseverance, transcendence, and cycling back to the beginning, to take another first step.
There are several scenes that took my breath away with an unexpected emotional gut-punch. Again, TGC, without words or characters or story, have distilled some kind of pure Jungian 'pull', a way to influence emotions and the basic level.
The music is composed by Austin Wintory, well known for orchestral pieces and film scores. While it is not as pervasive and integral to the game as the score was in Flower, it is still an incredible chunk of work. The music is mostly sweeping, isolate, passionate string parts in nat. minor, but with a middle-eastern flavor. The music is quiet or absent for relatively long sections while you're exploring, which makes it kick that much harder when a mournful cello slide drops in. This score is something special, it lives in that world. As I've said before, I value the immersive qualities of a game more than everything else, and this score is wholly of those dunes.
It's one of the best. By far. read