And if Journey is mesmeric on your own, it's a revelation with a partner. That early reticence to engage will dissolve as you realise that these vast expanses are much easier to traverse with two. A jab of the circle button from either player sends out a noise that sparks the other's inner powers, and instead of trudging slowly across hilly dunes, you'll glide over them. Arduous ascents become spectacular flights, each leap seeing the pair of you carried upwards in a magical dance created by your own interactions. At times your humanoid avatars feel more avian, your communication a delicate, intricate courtship of otherworldly sounds and graceful, almost balletic movements. In an arena dominated by conflict, it's an astonishing achievement to imbue players with the desire to co-operate. And not just to co-operate, but to co-habit, to share this bizarre, beautiful experience. It's no real exaggeration to say that, at times, it feels like the first flutterings of romance. Here, it is you and this other person against the perils and hardships of the world: you pull together to get through the bad times, you dance and sing in unison with joy at the good. Alone, you feel lost, fragile; together, you're empowered. You may have experienced similar in the silent but unbreakable bond of friendship found in Ico. But never quite like this, never with another player.
Journey may be a wonderful visual storyteller, but it wouldn't carry the same impact without its soundtrack. Austin Wintory's magnificent score subtly shifts in tone, expertly conveying a sense of mystery, then playful curiosity, blissful freedom, even reverence. These are not melodies that will lodge in your brain, but emotive themes that amplify sensation. You will notice its absence on the occasions it fades to nothing, as efficiently sparse sound effects take over.
Whether it's a pilgrimage worth making more than once or twice is debatable, the experience undeniably suffering a little under the scrutiny of a third or fourth play. Shorn of that initial wow factor, its spectacle remains remarkable but the mystery is lost. Those distant targets that expertly guide you on your first play become devious tricks to distract you from the aggressive linearity of the experience. Trek through the dunes alone, and your first journey will not be noticeably different from your last; winds blow you back on course should you stray too far from the intended path. This surprisingly rigid structure makes sense in light of the narrative, though it's impossible to say why without venturing into spoiler territory. Further play brings its languid pace and simplistic mechanics into sharper focus: this is a game to embrace the heart and mind alike, but not the thumbs.
It's perhaps telling that Journey suffers more on the rare occasions it most closely resembles a traditional game. Its glowing collectibles have a place in the game world, and implications for your avatar's movements, but other intrusions are more problematic. Translucent controller overlays may be an efficient tutorial, but do we need one at all? Similarly, the basic 'saving...' text that appears between chapters shatters the atmosphere its developer takes such pains to build. And while Trophies are sensibly implemented, the notification chime is particularly jarring here – and it seems there’s still no way to avoid such interruptions.
That these problems are so irksome is something of an achievement in itself. Journey's disappointments sting all the more, because here is an immaculately constructed, expertly choreographed experience that tells a story in a unique, intelligent way, exploring themes of faith and fate, death and rebirth with a rare delicacy of touch. That it comes at a time where risk is routinely avoided, sent out into a landscape clouded by doubt and dominated by the safe, the tried and tested? Maybe that's the real wonder.
VideoGamer.com Score9 Score out of 10
- An unforgettable multiplayer experience
- Looks and sounds like nothing else
- A singular vision, executed to near-perfection
- Low replay value for offline players; surprisingly linear