Journey is very different on PS4, despite being exactly the same game

Journey (opens in new tab) is in a weird place on PS4. Its transition to Sony’s new hardware very much mirrors the experience of its nameless protagonist… everything within the game looks very familiar, but the way it’s actually viewed on this second outing is very, very different. Many people know about Journey this time around – they know what happens, and those who don’t expect to be wowed by this critically acclaimed, emotional darling of the indie scene. And that puts Journey in a tight spot.

The weight of expectation on Journey is huge. Because it’s this game championed as an emotional tour de force, and a masterclass in things like game design and non-verbal communication, anyone coming in fresh is automatically expected to feel something. “Well, it’s got nice graphics,” isn’t going to cut it. And this colours the experience of playing it for the first time, because you’re always wondering when the big ‘wow’ moments are coming. And did you just miss it? Oh, was that it – the bit with the sliding?

Expecting something from Journey runs very contrary to the whole Journey experience. The clue is in the name – you’re here for the journey, and that’s the wow moment. It works as a whole, not a series of stand-out scenes, and the way you experience it personally is key. The reason the game had such impact is because no-one really knew what to expect from it in the first place, so that sense of wonder and discovery was very much intact. A second or third playthrough is different, less wonderful, and even an initial foray into the world – after three years of additional hype – is tainted.

And it’s not just the players who have been influenced by Journey’s critical success. It’s no longer a console curio, or experiment in the once burgeoning indie space. Sony expects you to buy it and play it, because it’s part of the PlayStation eco-system. In fact, its the flagship title of Sony’s proud relationship with independent developers, brought to the company’s newest console as a shining example of ‘what you could win’. Ironically, it’s marketed differently, promoted differently, and treated more like a traditional console title. Which it isn’t, at heart.

This means you’re more likely to have seen friends using PS4’s share functions to plaster your Twitter feed with pretty images of the game since it launched. Yes, it’s still handsome by modern standards, but the share button can’t capture what makes Journey truly special: you. It captures what’s happening on screen, but doesn’t give any indication of what you’re feeling or what you’re taking away from the game. And Journey is meant to be a deeply personal thing – even the anonymous co-op is designed to be unique each time – so it was all the better on PS3 when you couldn’t broadcast your experience to the wider world.

What compounds Journey’s problems further is that we’ve grown more accustomed to games that pull the same trick (no, it’s not an actual trick); the ones that take you on an emotional trip, sidelining linear gameplay in favour of letting the player piece together the narrative on their own. So, Gone Home, To The Moon, Proteus etc. The new version of Journey exists in a world where others have copied or been influenced by its greatest achievement – that of discovery and delight over signposted thrills. No, Journey doesn’t ‘own’ the concept, but it was one of few modern games bold enough to try it in back in 2012.

And yet Journey is still an incredible piece of work. It’s the same great game that you may or may not have played three years ago, and it’s still something you should absolutely experience. It hasn’t changed much, which is why I decided to write this feature in place of a review (barely at all – it maybe looks a little prettier), but by staying constant and unedited, it has very much become a different game within a new context. And when Journey relies so heavily on the way the player reacts to it, rather than what it actually feeds the person holding the controller, this has a big impact. So if you pick up Journey again, expect the same game… only completely different.

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