There's nothing harder for a video game reviewer to do properly than review an indie "art" game, with the obvious exception of cunnilingus. Go crazy in praising it and you come off as pretentious, criticise it in anyway and your inbox is filled with accusations of "you just didn't get it man!" Let's face it though, most if not all "art" games sacrifice something in the gameplay department in favour of their artistic expression, and Journey often falls into the same traps.
Journey is a Playstation Network exclusive game where you play as a nameless Jawa (for the sake of this review, let's call him Ootanee) walking through a desert and later on other environments, and that's literally it. When the game starts instinct from the 3D platform playing days of my youth to start double jumping around like an imbecile kick in, but are ignored by Journey's stubborn game engine. You just walk for the majority of the game, there are sections where it speeds up with a bit of flying, very basic platforming and sand surfing, but it's mostly just walking.
However, as people are probably screaming right now, the gameplay isn't the point. This is true, Journey can be considered a "game" about as much as accidentally swallowing a bee while cycling can be considered "lunch". It's supposed to be an artsy emotional experience, and in this regard Journey is a success. It's really no exaggeration to say this is one of if not the best looking back on the PS3; the lighting and sand effects are stunning, the environments are all interesting and memorable and the design and animation on the several creatures you'll meet along the way are perfect.
There are some incredible moments in Journey, featuring some genuinely exciting and emotionally captivating scenes. Awkwardly, if these were described in any significant detail it would probably ruin the best parts of the game for you and that wouldn't be fair to you or it. Journey definitely is one of those experiences where its best to go in blind and just see it for yourself than have it explained to you.
There's a simple fact that has to be placed as a footnote to all the good Journey has to offer, it just isn't that good of a video game. It's barely an hour long, the camera is usually functional but a lot of the time is more interesting in chasing off after something "artsy" than you and obstructs what you're doing sometimes, a hideous game design sin no matter how pretty your game is, and of course it's impossible to fail and there's no challenge at all. And it has to be said, even though it's ridiculously short, there are some moments where Journey is just plain boring because of its simplicity.
Before the screaming of "THAT'S NOT THE POINT" starts, Journey has a weird design choice where at the end of each environment there's a checkpoint and a white screen hauls you away to the next section. This takes away from the "journey" feeling it's going for, and makes Journey feel like it's set up in levels, and therefore a lot more like a "game". There's also sections where you are given the ability to fly and jump which feel like early PS2 3D platform sections, just confusing and not very difficult ones.
Probably the worst example of "game" and "art" just not mixing in Journey is with the monsters in the game that do actually attack you. The first time it happens it's genuinely exciting, and there's one of the game's more awesome moments that follow you afterwards. However, by the end of the game it's happened 4 or 5 times and it's clear that these monsters can't do anything to you and their attacks are nothing more than mere set pieces, and therefore all tension dissolves when you see them.
There are a lot of good things about Journey, it's just difficult to talk about them without spoiling them. Overall, Journey was a strong experience with some really dazzling moments and if you can get over its ridiculously short length for a fairly high price of £10 ($15 in the US) it comes recommended. But be warned that it is a victim of holding "art" over "gameplay", and there are times where the two don't mix so well, so if you've never been a fan of other art games like Flower then Journey will do nothing to change your mind on them.
And it is so so pretty...