Journey stands head and shoulders above all other artistic games. It's truly avant-garde and pushes the boundaries of what a video game can mean to its audience.
- Unassuming and jarringly unique story
- Remarkably detailed environmental graphics
- Online offerings redefine online interaction
- Nothing. Not one darn thing.
“Dammit,” was the first word out of my mouth after beating Journey. I was unhappy because I knew this review would be the hardest review I’ve ever written. If I had my way, I would simply write three words, email them to my editor and push back from my desk.
Those words? “Go play it.”
For the trusting among you, I recommend you stop reading my ramblings immediately and go play Journey. You can read the rest later. That is, if you can ever stop playing Journey. The first time I’ve stopped playing Journey this week was to write this review. Well, that’s not entirely true. After beating it for the first time I invited everyone I knew over to play it. Currently I’ve seen the ending of the game six times. Indeed, after I’m done writing this, my brother is coming over and I’m going to watch him play it, because it demands to be shared. Much like any journey, it’s better with company—even if you spend the entire hour and a half in rapt silence.
My Experience – Loneliness and Beauty
I am a collector. I am an achievement hunter. If the path of a game directs me to go left, I will generally go right to see what goodies I can track down; however, in Journey I didn’t do this once. And I don’t know why. From the very first scene of the game, I moved constantly and unwaveringly toward my goal.
You begin the game as a slightly amorphous biped (I immediately deemed it female, even though it is unclear) stranded in a vast desert. Venturing through various terrains including a city being reclaimed by sand and an impossibly windy snow-covered mountain, you solve a number of puzzles to reach your goal. These puzzles are in no way meant to be difficult or stimulating; instead they are simply a requisite part of your journey. Truly, never before has a game been so aptly named.
The imagery is remarkably realized, and I would say without a doubt some of the best environmental graphics I’ve ever seen in a video game. During one scene, your character slides down a sandy hill as the sun begins to set, casting fiery oranges and reds over the sand. You reach a cliff and sail off it with the sun explosively descending over a crumbling desert city, landing in a dark sandy cave. I have never felt as much loss as I did during that scene, like coming down too harshly off a great trip or waking from a spectacular dream only to realize you’re still in your same shitty bed living your same shitty life. I felt that way just because the graphics changed, mind you. That’s how damned good they are.
Beyond this, no description of the game is adequate. To try would be to do the game a disservice. Instead, I would like to detail the experience of four of my friends who I watched play the game. Being as the game takes only about an hour and a half to beat, I felt that my one experience would not be enough to properly address the human-driven intricacies the game invokes from each individual player.
Pete – Is This Game Supposed to be Emotional?
Pete was the first to play Journey after me, and probably the most delightful to watch. Having just beaten the game minutes prior, Pete arrived and I thrust the controller into his hands demanding he start right away. We played/watched most of the game in silence, other than the occasional interjection regarding the beauty of the game. The sunset scene evoked a “holy shit” from Pete while I nodded sagely and smiled. When Pete reached the final leg of his journey, after running the gamut of terrains, he was smiling unknowingly as his character danced through the clouds. Walking the final few steps he chuckled uncomfortably and asked me, “Dude, is this game supposed to be emotional?” and we both realized we had the most confusing tears in our eyes.
Molly and Jeff – The Little Things
My roommate Molly had never beaten a video game before Journey. She has played quite a few, but never really had the resolve to reach the end. However, she attacked Journey with gusto, and though her motor skills aren’t up to the code of the average gamer, she muscled through it. What was fun to watch when Molly played was her response to every bit of minutiae the game has to offer, from sliding down a sand dune to watching her character jump. These things I had ignored as standard video game fare, but I realized they were just as important to the journey as anything else—they were there for us to enjoy.
Jeff plays games probably the most similar to me of anyone I know. He collects and hunts for every little thing a developer might have placed in the game code. When he played Journey, he played it like I would have on any other day. He collected various orbs, found little niches I didn’t go near, and at one point tried to slide through every gate on a sand-surfing level. At this, Jeff turned to me and stated triumphantly, “I bet I get a trophy for this.” I just laughed and replied, “yeah man, I just don’t care.” No trophy was awarded, and in a way I was glad, because it would have disrupted my experience…of watching Jeff’s experience.
Trent – Serious Debilitating Loss
No one’s experience with Journey was quite as important as Trent’s. Coming on the tail end of a breakup and the loss of his home, I thought video games would probably be a good release for him. He started Journey much like everyone else, pausing at the same cliff, asking the same questions I refused to answer. But Trent found a partner. I knew it was possible (but unlikely considering how few people were playing the game last week) because Molly had caught a glimpse of another player during her playthrough. Unfortunately, Molly’s companion quickly moved on and she continued to play the game alone.
Trent, on the other hand, spied someone on the first level and ran toward him (it may have been a girl, but we will just say it was male) with glee. The stranger had a scarf much longer than Trent’s, and we discovered that he had been collecting glowing orbs that increased the scarf’s length. We discovered this because for the rest of the game Trent and his new friend were inseparable. Using nothing more than a ping function to communicate, they began to operate in harmony, helping one another solve puzzles and find glowing orbs. Trent couldn’t see the other player’s gamertag and had no other way of knowing if he was real, but this connection developed regardless.
At one point in the middle of their adventure, they encountered the only enemies in the game. Trent foolishly approached one, which ended up attacking both of them as a result. You cannot die in the game, and until this point I wondered if there were consequences beyond being knocked back. Trent discovered that being struck shortened your scarf drastically. He immediately felt terrible for destroying the scarf his partner had worked so hard to create, but unlike any other game, the stranger did not pout or rage quit, instead, he continued helping Trent beat the game. It was online behavior unlike any I have ever seen. Indeed, for the first time I had seen someone act human in an online game.
Finally, Trent reached the ending, something I will never tire of seeing. Dancing through the clouds, he was giddy with excitement, but somehow reserved. He had lost his friend at some point during the level and we didn’t know where he had gone. Reaching the last few steps, Trent stopped, turned back and stood on the edge of a cliff. His scarf—now meters long—danced over the edge of the cliff and his character eventually sat down in the snow. Wordlessly, we waited for nearly 15 minutes for his partner to catch up. They never showed.
You’re Still Reading? Why Aren’t You Playing?
If there are flaws in Journey, I’m not the person to ask about them. The game is both emotionally and visually stirring enough that any problems are insignificant to the point of not meriting mention. There is a meme floating around the internet claiming that various stories—from Pokémon to Cast Away—provide a better love story than the Twilight series. I couldn’t help but think about this while watching Journey a half-dozen times.
Other games depend heavily on the time you spend with a character to develop a demonstrative connection with them. This is the case with Fallout 3, Mass Effect 2, and myriad other games. However, in a mere hour and a half, Journey made more of an impact on my psyche than any game I have ever played. Honestly, I still don’t think Trent has quite recovered.
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