‘Journey’ Is the Album That Every Gamer Should Own

It's not a long-player, but thatgamecompany's perfectly formed adventure is an essential experience, now coming to PS4.

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16 July 2015, 5:33pm

This article contains some story spoilers, such as they are, from the start.

My first time through Journey was much the same as many other players'. I abandoned the suggested motion controls at the very outset, pressing forward through the endless-seeming desert using the analogue sticks, onwards towards a towering peak that looked unreachable. No prompt. No arrow flashing above me. No mini-map. Just the draw of adventure, curiosity pulling my wordless avatar through ruins and caverns, beneath a haze of yellow dust and through to skies washed a glorious emerald. I travelled alone, I travelled accompanied; I travelled, moving contently, momentum my only language, until the mountain was met and I pushed up through its defensive winds, past its prowling guardians, to a snowy infinity, and my demise. To my rebirth, and final ascent. And I cried.

Seriously. I'm not ashamed at all to tell you that the first time I experienced Journey, by the time its credits were rolling, I had at least a couple of tears on my cheek. It was late, and I'd almost certainly been drinking, but there can be no discounting the powerful emotional effect that this game, the third "proper" release from the (then) Sony-affiliated studio thatgamecompany, had on me. And on many other players, too. The 2012 game was exclusive to the PlayStation 3, but with a great many 360 users defecting from Microsoft and picking up PS4s over Xbones in this eighth console generation, Sony are wisely putting it out again for their priority home system.

On the 21st of July, a massive new audience for Journey will open up, as the game is given a fresh lick of 60fps paint as befits the increased processing power of the PS4. In a nice move, anyone already owning the PS3 version can download the PS4 one for free. And, really, why wouldn't anyone want to play this again? When I got home last night, tired from Brighton's Develop conference (and just a little groggy from a few IPAs at the Games by the Sea indie bash held afterwards), I powered up my PS3, dusted off a controller that'd not been touched in a few months, and set about seeing all of Journey again, to feel how a fifth playthrough of it would compare to that first time.

Glorious, still, basically. Journey is short enough to play in one sitting, about 90 minutes long, with no risk of meeting a game-over state and a wonderfully rich (and ground-breakingly Grammy nominated) orchestral score complementing the beautiful visuals. It is a multiplayer game unlike any other, when it wants to be, where at most you'll only ever witness another wanderer in your space, at any one time, and the game doesn't insist that you go anywhere near them. There's no traditional communication – interactions are restricted to chirps, to the most limited of body language. In one part of the game "you" can write in the snow on the ground, if the urge emerges. On one previous playthrough, my company for the game's final leg paused long enough to draw a heart in the snow, around me, before we moved on. It's a common sight, widely documented, but I melted nonetheless, just a bit.

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The way that Journey unfolds is much like an amazing album – a parallel that's no doubt been drawn before (though I've not actually read it) on account of the game's short duration and environmental diversity, each new scene a different track while the artist remains the same, essentially; the artist being that diminutive figure in the middle of colossal landscapes, you. And it's a classic album, too, one that welcomes repeat plays like a favourite LP that's more closely connected to your heart than actual members of your family. Its looks aren't going to date at pace, as its singular aesthetic is supremely striking. The music will sound just as sublime 50 years from now, and more. Whatever your personal favourite record is, Journey is akin to the video game equivalent: a pick-me-up when you're down, an escape from the grey days that we all have. Each listen can reveal something new, in the game's case ranging from power-enhancing collectibles to inside-joke Easter eggs. It's a powerful piece of interactive art that truly does argue the case that video games can be so much more than toys.

The unspoken story that guides every walk and glide from dunes to drifts (sorry, did I not mention your little explorer can fly for a wee while? You can fly for a wee while, it's all in the scarf) is an eternal one: of the corrupting quality of power, and how we can all learn to lust after less for the benefit of others around us. Journey's world is not a barren one, each grain of sand sparkling with life, caught in the wind and dancing to its song; but the society that once called it home has gone, buried beneath where your footless legs carry you. It's a deeply melancholic game, long before its final moments knot your heartstrings and the score surges to a literal peak (and, oh, that peak). It's lonely, but comforting: no harm can come to you here. Your adventurer will pick themselves up, time after time. He or she – it's quite deliberately unclear – will always be alright, forever, and ever.

'Journey', PS4 trailer

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Journey crosses barriers of taste, of genre preference, of gamer denominations, on account of being completely unlike anything else you'll play on modern gaming platforms. Some might look at what they've seen (but not felt) and determine that it's boring, a walking simulator, incompatible with their adrenaline-streaming action affairs, but I'd urge all 20 million and more PS4 owners to download this short game. It doesn't cost a lot, and it won't take up a great deal of your time (or space on your hard drive). To adopt a parlance I'm wholly uncomfortable with, it can be "beaten" in less time than it takes to navigate the prologue of your average triple-A release. But once completed, it's a game never forgotten. I know I'll always be happy to play it, when the night's set in and my head's crowded with the day's static, accumulated into a suffocating fog. Journey clears the mind and fills the heart like few (I hesitate to say no, as I've not played them all) other games can. Assuming you even call it a game, as like that album you'll never tire of listening to, it transcends its medium to mean so much more to those who hold it dear.

But this is something you've likely read before. The internet isn't short on personal testimonies of Journey's lasting power, and this is but one piece of many (which handily makes me feel less like I've just accidentally written free advertorial). I'll play it again, when it's available for the PS4. But if you have only read about Journey until now, because you had an Xbox before, or a Wii, or you're simply coming to the game for the first time for some other reason, play it. A neat, complete 90 minutes: it's enough, if you weren't already au fait, to convince you that video games are capable of being deeper, more moving creations than the shooters, sports sims and competitive multiplayers that dominate the commercial space, and that they can mean so much more without actually saying anything. You might not cry, but you'll be sure to want to tell someone about your first Journey. And the second. And the fifth.

@MikeDiver / @VICEGaming

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