Also available on: N/A
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Social games have become their own genre as of late. However, the moniker is most often given to games on Facebook, typically where the height of social interaction is to spam one's list of friends with invites and requests. It's a shame that this definition has become so widely accepted, because Journey might be one of the few truly social games out there. And it does so without ever saying a word.
Journey begins in the desert. You are alone amid an endless sea of sand with only a stone monument atop a nearby dune for direction. Climbing the dune reveals a wave of monuments spread across the sand, painting a loose path on the landscape. Following the path you come to scraps of cloth fluttering in the breeze, which form a scarf around your neck giving you the ability to jump. This brief opening sequence perfectly sets the tone for what's ahead, as the journey that follows is filled with vague markers often leading to monumental discoveries.
It doesn't hurt that Journey is absolutely gorgeous to behold. A barren desert has never looked so beautiful. Watching the deep sand ripple under each footstep or swirl in the breeze brings the desolate landscape to life. As with any good journey, your travels will take you far and wide, spanning ruins, caverns and even snowy mountain peaks.
Each new set piece receives the same loving detail, right down to the frost that builds on your cloak while trudging through the snow. Without dialogue or narration, Journey relies entirely on visuals to tell its story, and does so masterfully. Landmarks are placed just at the edge of your vision, urging you onward out of pure curiosity for the next spectacle.
Journey is then elevated by its implementation of multiplayer. There are no visible servers or matchmaking in place. Instead, players embark on their own individual journeys, meeting other players along the way who happen to be at the same point in their own game. The process is seamless, and the feeling of relief and joy at finding another person is palpable.
Perhaps that joy is why the sole method of interaction with other players is to sing. Tapping the circle button lets out a brief note, while holding the button bellows out a chord in a wide radius. Singing can also be used to activate stone glyphs or interact with cloth creatures found in the desert, but it is used far more with another player as you guide each other to share secrets you have found or sing in close vicinity to restore your companion's scarf.
Journey puts much of its focus on exploration and rewarding curiosity, creating the sense of a deeply personal experience. No goals are ever stated for you, but are accomplished naturally as your curiosity led you there. When another player is added to that equation, the urge to share those personal experiences is strong.
And by the Journey's end, players may be surprised by how strongly they feel a bond with their travel companions. It is only after the credits roll that players see the names of those they met along the way, the reward for their combined endeavours.
As much as Journey is a game, it is also a metaphor for life. We travel onward though life – perhaps aimlessly, perhaps with purpose – but always with those experiences shaped by the friends, family and loved ones around us. The fact that Journey has so effectively condensed the experience into a two-hour interactive poem is an astonishing achievement. It is the evolution of Jason Rohrer's art game Passage, bringing an unmatched humanity to the experience through its multiplayer.
It is the urge to share that experience with others, the pull to seek out and socialise, that will draw players back to Journey a second, third, fifth and eighth time. Journey may not appeal to every player's tastes, but it is one of the finest examples of the art form that everyone should experience.