In all regards, Journey was a beautiful game. It stunned gamers everywhere with its breathtaking visuals, despite how simple the graphics and models were compared to other PS3 games and other games on the market. While it did have amazing titles like Mass Effect 3, The Walking Dead, and Halo 4 competing against it, it still pulled through and won the game. But how? What does it have that these high-budget games don’t? The answer is simplicity, innovation, and intrigue.
The Nintendo Wii wasn’t the next-gen console everyone was expecting, but it still managed to exceed expectations when it came to sales. Gamers were attracted to it because of its innovative new controller, along with the slew of titles it offered right out of the box. While Journey didn’t necessarily attract a new crowd, what it did do was offer gamers something new. You don’t kill a simple thing in the game, nor do you have any attacks. Your interactions are limited by how far your voice reaches or how far you fly. By snipping out all of the unnecessary bits of platforming and making it a simple obstacle course, gamers could sit back and enjoy the visuals and the characters they encountered. This is something you can rarely achieve in other games, and it manages to make it the main focus.
Running around with your co-op partner, not knowing what to do or where to go, pushes off the sense of urgency in the game. You know what direction you need to go, but the beginning levels are so vast that you can take your time exploring. As you press on and get to know your co-op partner better, the areas become more challenging and more linear. This is where you transition from partners who want to beep at each other and explore to partners that want to beat the game. Making the game more linear as time goes on reflects the game plan of both you and your partner—something few games rarely account for. Making sure that you and your partner stick together for a while is also an important feature of the game, since the game automatically replaces ‘lost’ or ‘idle’ partners. The creators of the game wanted to make sure you had a relationship with this stranger before moving on, and their level design reflects that.
The success of Journey has less to do with its visuals and more to do with the way it guided players. Using no words whatsoever (unless you count the beeps), the game shows you where to go right from the start. Its levels start large, but get smaller. It starts with no threats, but by the end of the game you’re scared of being eaten and dying, or losing your partner. These transitions were so fluid that by the end of the game you’re bound to have an emotional experience. Maybe you lose your partner, or maybe you’re just excited about the last area, but in the end you are moved. While Journey’s GOTY contenders certainly had emotional sequences, the games had many other elements in mind. Moving the plot forward coherently, keeping track of all the characters, and managing resources were huge factors in these games that Journey managed to trim out. It is this innovative look at just the raw emotional aspect of plot that brought Journey up to the top.