Journey begins with a small sand dune. The cloth figure players control moves slowly up its incline, with great effort in every small step. Climbing the dune takes a little longer than initially expected, but the reward is a stunning vista and the implication of a goal – to reach that distant mountain peak.
The minor toil of that first climb sets up the journey ahead. A journey that may only take around two hours to complete, but which explores the breadth and depth of life itself.
Thatgamecompany's Journey is a masterpiece of minimalist adventure. A stunning medley of visuals, sound and play that conjures a gamut of emotion and provides arguably the purest, most fulfilling multiplayer experience yet offered by this medium.
First released on PlayStation 3 in 2012, Journey has now been re-released on PS4 with an upgrade that only strengthens arguments that it is one of the finest looking video games ever made.
Constant 1080p and 60 frames per second was all that was required of this remaster, and it delivers. Frame rates get too much attention these days, but nobody can deny that 60fps makes this game better. Journey's sense of flowing movement is one of its key attributes and for that to be smoother than ever only improves its poetic grace.
Everything else about Journey remains the same. Best played with little prior knowledge, it's a game about discovery and companionship. Its multiplayer is seamless, pushing players together without lobbies or invites, no gamertags until an end credits reveal, and with no means of communication other than delightful chirps.
It is easy to float by another player unacknowledged, so you may never interact with someone in a meaningful way. Whether you do or not hardly diminishes the game's impact, but it is at its best when two figures (and it is never more than two) are together, pressing on like migrating birds flocking on instinct.
I played the game through three times on PS3, but it was during my PS4 run that I first enjoyed something approaching the "full" multiplayer experience Journey offers.
I shared the majority of my journey – its ups and its downs – with someone by my side. They appeared to be new to the game, so I guided them to the collectables, I waited for them when I got ahead, they waited for me in turn, and I watched with a hint of anguish as they found themselves in danger. All this without a word.
Thatgamecompany has captured the essence of human interaction, creating a game that is about forging a tenuous but important relationship with someone regardless of where they're from or the language they speak.
Over the course of the game's first half the player's abilities grow as they learn more about how it works and how best to master its movement. The genius of Journey is how it takes that away, but never to the detriment of the player's desire to press on. So when things get tougher and tougher, you forge ahead regardless, because turning back isn't an option.
The reward is a spectacular and powerful finale that soars to a crescendo just as Austin Wintory's instant-classic, Grammy-nominated score does as well.
Without a word, Journey climaxes with one of gaming's most powerful and emotive finales. An utter delight bringing to a close the game's depiction of life in microcosm, from its first tentative steps to the delights that follow, the personal connections you make, the turmoil through which we persevere, and beauty of every last second.