Go play Journey.
That’s really all that should have to be said, but alas, a game share requires actual presentation. An exploration game at its heart, Journey wordlessly spins the tale of a desert wanderer on a vague but important mission. The goal of this relatively short (90-ish minutes) experience is to travel to and ascend a great and ominous mountain, almost always on the horizon, urging the player to press forward. That’s all well and good, but the destination, as they say, is not as important as the… odyssey itself.
Journey lends the player almost no explanation of the game controls, where to go, what to do– barely a hint about how the game even works. It opens with a breathtaking sweep through the desert before the camera rests comfortably behind your hooded figure. From there, the player is encouraged to simply explore their surroundings– the setting encourages progress forward through ruined structures in the distance, tempting investigation. Upgrades to the character’s jump ability glow invitingly in the sand.
One aspect that the game pulls off most effectively is the representation of traditionally non-immersive elements of design within the game world. The character’s number of remaining jumps, for instance, is indicated by the number of glowing runes on their scarf. Experience and jump height are both indicated by the length of said garment. There is no “heads-up display” showing lives or power-ups or anything else. Even the pause screen is presented as a scenic shot of the wanderer resting in the sand.
Perhaps the most discussed element of Journey is its use of online multiplayer. Players may find themselves randomly joined by a companion, another hooded figure under the control of another real-world player. The characters can only communicate through body language and small, wordless tones and runes emitted at the press of a button. (These tones seem to be in the key of the soundtrack, which I thought was a nice touch.) Despite the limited communication, players must rely on each other to get through certain sections of the game, replenishing each others’ jump power and helping to avoid enemies. The best part of this collaboration is that the game doesn’t tell you the name of the other player (until the end credits, anyway)– all you have is their in-game avatar, with whom you will endure grueling hardship and joyful triumph. The whole experience is surprisingly emotional.
Journey manages to capture a wide range of feelings through its wordless and collaborative gameplay, elegant visuals, and gorgeous soundtrack/audio cues. It’s nothing short of amazing and easily worth a playthrough.