I didn’t play Journey five years ago. I played Journey for the first time in 2017. It’s a game that’s referenced again and again in so many best of lists and yet it’s barely 2 hours long. What made Journey so special? And why has its legacy endured five years on?
What I think makes many games great is their utilization of the interactive medium. What made Heavy Rain great and Beyond Two Souls laughable, was just how much your choices and interaction affected the story line. Your actions in Journey don’t affect the story but the medium of interactivity is still applied to its strength.
Journey is essentially a walking sim, a genre which is historically difficult to get right. But Journey achieved success through its “show don’t tell” style of gameplay. It says so much by saying nothing at all. There is no tutorial, no narrator, no dialogue. There is a visible destination, stunning scenery, and a perfectly immersive soundtrack. The story is essentially the titular journey, and gameplay is successful only because of the immersion.
Aside from Journey’s show don’t tell attitude, there’s a lot of cogs at work here, which build to give the perfect immersive experience. The game works with your inputs and changes in this way. The music changes depending on how you play, adding and removing notes dependent on your button presses.
Invisible walls are well hidden behind high mounds of sand. The world feels big and entirely possible through your exploration, while at the same time secretly leading you down the right path. It may seem a little thing, but truly making a world believable means that you can believe you are really in that world.
This realism is why the controls in Journey are just so important. When sliding down sandbanks or floating in a lake of magic, the controls are silky smooth, easily transporting you where you want to go. Yet we quickly contrast with the blizzard controls, where moving the character a single meter proves a struggle. Feeling the cold take the controls as they have taken the character. The frustrations of being pushed back in the game are mirrored in you as they are the protagonist.
Unfortunately, five years on I was unable to experience the one thing the developers painstakingly included: Multiplayer. While it is perfectly acceptable to complete your journey alone, two people playing Journey in the same place at the same time can find each other and help each other on their journeys together, completely wordlessly. You form a bond with another human purely through human compassion. Sadly, in 2017 no-one was on my journey with me.
Journey has stood the test of time because it nailed the basics. Immersion, a well told story, good gameplay—these are the foundations of any game. Five years on Journey is still worth your time.