|Self-released | discogs.com|
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A solitary hooded figure alights upon a dune in a vast ocean of sand. A single mountain looms in the distance, a pillar of light rising from its peak. This is all the information you receive, and it is all you need. Driven by nothing but id, you know that this is your goal.
There are no patronising tutorials on how to run and jump. No flashing button appears to remind you how to push every box from A to B. Journey strips away all the chaff, and is a far richer experience for it.
Video game soundtracks are a predictable affair, too often barely qualifying as music. Every jumpscare-laden boilerplate horror experience ticks its way through a list of vaguely unsettling synth noise. Every happy little retro sixteen-bit throwback is soundtracked by chirpy chiptune earworms. Every self-righteous gun-toting sociopath performs the various requisite degrees of murder to a third-rate string ensemble beefed up by a clatter of faux-orchestral percussion.
Austin Wintory refuses to be predictable. He breathes life into a world at once alien and familiar. A regal cello blooms, enveloped in quivering strings. Exotic woodwinds yearn and pine and strain. Demure timpani, cymbals and gongs wax and wane. Journey is a cinematic experience, and it is only appropriate that its music match the label. Dwarfed though you may be by the task at hand, you are never alone.
This does not mean that Journey will hold your hand and guide you safely to your destination. The endless desert is not as dead as it seems. You must traverse the crumbling ruins of an ancient civilisation, abandoned since time immemorial. Friendly schools of tiny flying carpets dart and dash, and if you can tame them, they may choose to help you on your way. But what lurks deep in the sands may not be as kind.
Frequently ranked at the the pinnacle of lists of greatest games, Wintory has created an atmosphere befitting of this engrossing, uncluttered game. This was the first, and to date only, video game soundtrack to be nominated for a Grammy. Journey is a masterclass in minimalism. Perhaps you too will come to experience it.