By Jason Van Horn
Journey is a hard game to review if only because I have a hard time classifying
it as an actual game, as it's more like an interactive piece of art. Art is
supposed to be pretty (at least pretty in the eye of the beholder) and make the
person looking at it feel something on some emotional level. Journey happens to
accomplish all that within only a short matter of time as the game is quite
short, though there is some replayability to be had (whether it's because you're
going for achievements or simply wanting to experience the magic of it once
Journey begins with you in a desert with nothing but sand and dunes as far as
the eye can see. You have no name though you have a human-like appearance.
You've got two legs to run on, two piercing eyes that beam through the darkness
of your hooded shroud, and you have a scarf that flows behind you as you move.
The camera pans to show you a mountain, giving you some indication as to what
might be a good goal to focus on, so off you go, being ever drawn forward to
that mountain in the distance.
At first Journey is all about exploration, as you're alone, in a desert, with
scattered tombstone looking rocks jutting about the place and other formations
that will call for you to go check them out if only because there's nothing else
in the area. You'll learn how to move about the environment, jump over
obstacles, hover, and learn how to interact with things by singing. The controls
are simple and yet can be annoying. You have a jump button, a "sing" button, and
then you move your character with the thumbstick and can change your camera and
stuff by tilting the controller. The tilting was bothersome to me as I often had
to readjust my camera to see what I wanted because it would change all on its
own, and while this mostly just led to me not being able to see the breathtaking
scenery I wanted, it sometimes led to me taking some damage from a certain foe.
It's not a huge problem, but it's one that bugged me nonetheless.
Once you get through the initial area, the world starts getting more elaborate
and there are suddenly more structures to investigate, new creatures start
appearing, and puzzles (though easy) enter into the fray as well. You'll also be
introduced to something else at this point - another player. You aren't alone in
your adventure (or at least you don't have to be alone) as you can choose to
explore and help each other do things, like solve the puzzles quicker and help
point out to each other where scarf upgrades are and where story murals can be
found. The trick is that there is no means of communication other than hopping
around and using the sing button. You can't just use voice chat or send them a
message or anything of the sort. You can only run around and use the sing button
to create a variety of chirps.
It's here where Journey truly shines, however, because by the time you run
across your first player it's a joy and a genuine thrill. You're not alone for
long, but the world is so desolate and strange and vacant that it's comforting
to actually be able to see and interact with another player. You'll do your
chirps together, help each other out, or you might get annoyed with their
incessant chirping and move away or either you or they will have to logoff
because you don't have anymore time to play. The game is very short though, so
it is entirely possible to meet a person and play the whole game with just them,
but if you split your gaming sessions up you'll run across different people.
You'll never know who you played with until the very end of the game and there's
another joy in seeing actual names being used; you can't put a name to the face,
but I admit smiling at the screen when I finally learned their names.
You'll run through a lot of sandy areas, but there are thrills and new
discoveries always waiting around the corner as you journey ever closer to that
mountain in the distance. You'll find giant staircases that can only be
completed by using magical carpet scarves. You'll ride around on flying stingray
looking creatures, surf over glittering sands, dodge enemy monsters, and
ultimately just maybe you'll reach the mountain. Okay, so you will reach the
mountain, but you can't talk about the mountain without spoiling the whole
essence of Journey.
The heart and emotion and meaning and purpose of Journey ultimately come into
place once the mountain is reached. The mountain is such a stark contrast from
the rest of the game that you'll feel conflicting emotions and actually find
yourself wanting to go back to that desert in the beginning. You'll still have a
clear goal in mind, but you face things like you've never faced before; it's
like a whole new world. The "meaning" of the game comes into play around this
time and suddenly it's like everything comes into focus and every action you
choose to take or not take suddenly matters and it's hard not to sympathize with
your character and feel actual emotions watching them going through these final
moments of the game. In a weird, strange way, it's also at this point in time
when the idea of co-op and multiplayer suddenly becomes something more than it
is in other games. You're not surviving hordes of the undead or fighting back
aliens or soldiers, but I'd argue you won't form as emotional a bond as you will
during this segment. It's one of those things I wish I could spoil, but part of
the joy is discovering the meaning of Journey for your success and going along
on the rollercoaster ride of emotions.
Journey is a truly spectacular and marvelous looking game, especially in the
lighting department. The characters are pretty simple in their design, but they
still have a great style. It's the world building and lighting though that make
the game, as you'll find yourself just awe struck by some of the scenery and
drifting off into this serene state of mind while floating and experiencing the
game. Journey features a lovely score as well, which can be somber one moment
when you're experiencing one of the bleaker moments of the game, but it will
also stir with excitement and a flirty sense of adventure as you do things like
surf the sands through dilapidated structures.
Journey isn't a long game itself, but the experience is one that will last with
you long after you've finished it. I've played my share of games I was involved
in and then forgot about as soon as something new came along, but with Journey
it just lingers in my head and the more I write in this review the more I want
to go back and experience it all again. So Journey is short and there's not a
lot in terms of what you would normally think of as "gameplay," but it's a game
definitely worth your money and experiencing for yourself.
Rating: 4 out of 5