Today I took a break from playing The Witcher III: Wild Hunt, which is a contender for my game of the year so far, and played through one of my favourite games of all time; Journey, lovingly remastered on PS4. This is a straight up 1080p 60fps remaster of the game, with no additional content from what I can see, but playing it again was still an amazing experience – especially with this buttery smooth and high definition presentation. Journey is still a game that holds up as a PS4 title and still innovates even now, so what makes it so special?
Accessibility and game design: There are really only two buttons in Journey, one makes you “chirp” a musical note and one makes you fly into the air if your magical scarf is charged-up, and there is even no need for the right analog stick (you can tilt the gamepad instead). This makes the game very accessible for players of all ages and experience. Not only this, but there is no way to die in Journey, you will never hit a game-over screen, and there is no real way to get lost – the mountain, your final destination, is almost always visible and the areas (while they seem very open) are actually quite linear. There are no weapons, you don’t fight or try to kill anything, and while there are “baddies” in the game they are to be avoided/run away from rather than any violence needed.
A sense of loneliness and friendship: The feeling created by the vast open landscapes, which dwarf your genderless character, is one of loneliness and isolation – and while you can play through the game this way it is much more rewarding to play online to experience the opposite. By allowing the game to remain online you’ll meet other players in the desert and the bond you will form with these players is tremendous. The only communication allowed is to “chirp” at each other, which not only provides a reassuring vocal cue to your partner, but also recharges the power in their scarf, which lets them fly up and reach high places. By standing close and touching each other you also constantly recharge each other’s power, and this is especially useful in the later sections of Journey.
The beauty and mystery of the world: I’ve chosen to use artwork rather than screenshots in this review, so that you can experience the actual game world yourself, but suffice to say that Journey is still utterly beautiful. The art direction is ‘Team ICO’ meets ‘Studio Ghibli’ and the different and varied environments are just breath-taking to behold, often baked in bright golden sunlight, and with glistening sand blowing and falling all over the place. The soundtrack to Journey is also one of the finest and most evocative ever created for a videogame, suiting the mood of the action perfectly and dynamically. The world itself also has lots of hidden mysteries to discover, such as wall paintings, esoteric glyphs (that increase your scarf length and allow you to fly higher) and rich environmental detail.
The saddest story you will ever experience: The narrative of Journey is cryptically told through flashbacks from celestial beings at the climax of each area, and tells of an ancient race created by the life-force emanating from the mountain. These divine beings harnessed the power gifted to them and created the red cloth with its mystical properties, and with this new power built cities and technology. All this now lies in ruins though, as the old ones were torn apart by war, creating the machines that would be their undoing. From the ashes of this dying race, your kind was born and constantly seeks the mountain and the path to the divinity of your ancestors. I won’t spoil the story of the game, but by the end you will realise the very Buddhist nature of this world, with the constant cycle of death and rebirth being a very strong overarching theme.
A story played out again and again: Journey is a very short game, clocking in at about two hours for your first time through and subsequently about an hour and a half each playthrough to pick up the things your missed or help other people reach the mountain. This might seem criminally brief but this is definitely a conscious design – you see, Journey is best experienced in one sitting. I can’t stress enough how much more impact and how much more rewarding it is to sit and finish the game in a single session; you will feel a much greater emotional impact from the story and closer bond with your travelling partner. As for replayability, well I’ve now (with this PS4 release) played through the game probably about a dozen times, and it still captivates and entertains me as much as it did the first time through. Something about its structure, cryptic narrative, hidden collectibles, etc. that in addition to the brief running time contributes to an infinitely replayable game.
As you can see, I really can’t recommend Journey highly enough, or make a more compelling case for why everyone should give it a go. Along with Shadow of the Colossus, this game remains one of my very favourites, and I think it is a brilliant example of sophisticated and exemplary videogame design. Suitable for all ages, genders and experience levels, Journey is an absolute classic that should be enjoyed by everyone – especially now with the flawless remastered presentation on PS4.