We begin with no context or pomp. A lone, red-cloaked figure stands in a desert gazing at a mountain in the distance, a beam of light radiating from its peak. We don’t know why he or she is there, who he or she is, or why we instantly feel compelled to get to that mountain.
Instead, the setup simply seems to awaken some basic human instinct – if there’s a mysterious mountain in the distance, it must be climbed. The journey to the mountain will take us through all manner of environments – across deserts, through temples and secret passages, and up the desperately cold and treacherous mountain itself.
A beautiful, emotive orchestral soundtrack is the only constant company we have as we travel across this stunningly-rendered world, which quietly acknowledges our passage. Sand dunes shift to show the our movements through them, ice collects on our clothing, and strange creatures pursue or play with us.
The game’s vibrant palette shifts through gold, pink, blue, green, grey, and white with every level change, mimicking the shifting of seasons, and the remnants of a civilisation lost poke through the sand.
The mechanics here are incredibly subtle. We acquire the ability to fly for brief periods by finding a scarf, and it is recharged via glowing symbols scattered throughout the world. As the scarf becomes more powerful, it gradually gets longer and longer, until our red-cloaked adventurer is towing a great banner of magical flight potential.
Every now and then, we are joined by an unnamed companion – another player making the same pilgrimage. The anonymity brings a certain affection. They are a perfect stranger, and we can only interact with them through a single, surprisingly communicative musical note. Guiding others has a benefit too: proximity charges our respective scarves.
Of course, the journey is one undertaken alone, for the most part. Seeing others pass by brings home the vastness of the world, but our solitude is meditative rather than unpleasant. They are mere passers-by in our world, and we visitors in theirs.
There are very few expectations or distractions forced onto us. The journey is made at whatever pace or skill level we possess, or indeed how we feel. There is no game over screen, and the single goal of conquering the mountain is never blurred by other mess.
The game itself is very clean and sharp. Short cut-scenes at the end of each level reveal hints of a backstory. Long gazes risk losing their meaning in the abstraction of each character’s features, but the music clues us into the mood. There’s an underlying sorrow, but also a feeling of inevitability.
Journey carries with it a moving narrative about actively being in the present. Unlike so many games, we're not trying to save the world, and there’s no-one barking the stakes at us, or telling us what we must do. Instead, we're playing simply to experience it at our own pace – to journey for the sake of it. Most appropriately – and perhaps most impressively – the game conveys this without a uttering a single word. It's a calming yet thought-provoking title with a unified aesthetic and a unique style, so an expedition in its striking world is strongly encouraged.