Review: "Journey"

I don’t often review video games. In fact, I’ve never reviewed one formally. Games, more so than perhaps any other medium, are wholly subjective and hinge upon the user’s idea of “fun”. Thus I never really saw the point – there isn’t a lot of technical craft you can point to in a game like you can in a film or a novel. Why bother reviewing something that someone else may consider fun or not fun based on entirely different criteria?

Journey, however, transcends subjectivity. Journey is nothing less than one of the most moving and revealing works of art of its generation.

That said, if you have a PS3, an internet connection, $15, and two hours, I highly, HIGHLY advise that you go buy this game and play it right now before reading anything else. Journey is best experienced knowing very, very little about it. The less you know, the more pure and more affecting your experience.

The basic premise is rather simple. You are a traveler clad in a red cloth robe who awakens in a desert. Your goal is to travel across the expanse and reach the mountain in the distance. Your scarf, empowered by glowing symbols, allows you to hover for brief periods of time. You emit a small vocal chirp to call magical strips of fabric to your person, recharging your scarf and lifting you into the air from platform to platform. That is the gameplay of Journey. There is no combat, there is no real objective.

Nor is there dialogue. The entire game’s story is told through visuals and music. Both are exceedingly beautiful, with the visuals being some of the most evocative of any video game you are likely to see. From the desert sands to the snows at the foot of the mountain and the underground tunnel, Journey is a sight to behold, a picture of a world gone by. The music is equally flooring, beautifully composed to match every emotional note that the game hits, from excitement to depression to inspiration and back again. This is a game that tells its story through the experience, not through typical conventions.

Where Journey‘s heart lies is in the incredibly novel approach to cooperative multiplayer. During your travels, you will meet up with other robed individuals who share your goal of reaching the mountain. They can only chirp back at you as you can only chirp at them. There is no vocal communication. There is no indication of the other player’s age, gender, or disposition. You only know that the robed individual is another human being, and that you share a common goal.

I’ve made the two-hour Journey about six or seven times. On some Journeys, I had as many as seven or eight companions throughout. On the one that I completed mere minutes ago, I had a single companion all throughout. In every case, players show a remarkable benevolence and camaraderie that is hard to believe given the typical reputation of the gamer community. There is an intimate relationship with your companion that the lack of dialogue creates – what do their chirps mean? When you chirp and they chirp back, is it a sign of trust? Respect? Affection? Who follows? Who leads? When you get lost and they come back to get you, did they need your help, or did they seek your company? You fill in your own answers, and in almost every case, you come to appreciate and adore your companions.

The times in Journey when I did not have a companion – the result of your companion moving on before you do – were very sad. I felt isolated and lonely in the ruined world of the game. But when a companion arrived, everything brightened up again. It’s truly remarkable how Journey takes two strangers who will never know each others’ names, and creates a strong relationship between them over the span of a two hour Journey toward a mountain.

Journey will floor you. It’s impeccable presentation, novel approach to storytelling, and intimate cooperative multiplayer make it an experience that will call you back constantly to experience the emotional transformation it offers, one that is not diluted with each playthrough. As I end the game with a companion each time, a wide grin spreads across my face. No game has ever filled me with a sense of happiness as Journey has.

* * * * / 4

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