Really. That’s my entire review. One word, and I’ll say it again in case you missed it – magical.
That should be my entire review, but most people read reviews so as to get an idea of the game they are thinking about buying.
That would be your first mistake. Journey is not a game. Journey is so much more than that. It is a transcendental experience that goes beyond being a game, or art, or anything you’ve ever witnessed before for that matter.
If you’ve read any of my previous reviews, you know that I’m big on the overall feel of a game – the experience of it. There are games that are just games, and there’s nothing wrong with that. You can play them and have fun. You can play them to beat a score, or a fellow gamer. These are the kind of games where the experience stops when you stop playing the game. The rush of being in a squad where the teamwork is off the charts is a great example. The experience can be amazing, but when you stop playing the game, that experience ceases as well.
Journey goes beyond all that. You continue to experience Journey long after the closing credits roll.
A word of advice…
If you want to get the most out of Journey, then I implore you to stop reading right now and just go get it. Seriously. The less you know, the better. I knew next to nothing going into the game, save for the fact that it had a desert setting and was made by the studio responsible for other PSN titles like Flower, flOw, and Cloud. That’s it – and I’m glad.
Journey is such an amazing work of art that I feel like, if you have any intention of playing the game, I’m doing you a disservice by telling you anything about it. You don’t want to be told anything about how the game plays or where it takes you. You really should experience it all firsthand – you’ll be all the more amazed having done so.
If you’re reluctant to take my advice and want to keep reading, or if you’ve already gone on a Journey or two, then I’ll try to put into words why Journey is the single most amazing experience I’ve ever had while playing a ‘game’.
How do you tell a story without ever saying a word?
Journey is the story of a desert person on a sort of pilgrimage to a far off mountain one can only assume holds great significance to it and the rest of its kind. You’re never told that though, all you’re given is a few cinematics and pictures akin to ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics.
You start off in the middle of the desert, alone, and with no direction. Upon a shifting sand dune in front of you is an obelisk of some sort, and without thinking you instinctively move towards it to get a closer look. You step through the sand, shifting it with your every footstep, until you reach the top of the dune. That’s when you see the far off mountain and it’s skyward shooting beam of light for the first time. There’s nothing telling you what to do, but you know that’s where you need to go.
Ahead of you, down on the other side of the dune, are more of the monuments in the sand. You start off, now with a purpose to your Journey. The dune is steep and you begin to slide down the side of it. You turn and weave as if you’re riding a wave of sand, until you get to the bottom and your slide turns into a run.
A few pieces of tapestry float in the air. They attach themselves to the back of your cloak, and the beginning of your scarf flutters in the wind. A press of the X button sends you flying in the air, but as you hold down the button, the symbols on the cloak begin to fade, and when they’re gone entirely you float back down to the desert floor before you. Those tapestry pieces are still there, never going away. As you approach them again, they swirl around you and the symbols on your scarf reappear as if they were recharged.
A little ways ahead you come across a floating golden symbol, wondering what it does. You approach it only to have it swirl and dissolve, attaching itself to the end of your now flowing scarf. With it comes the ability to stay in the air longer, flying higher and farther.
Tap the O button and your desert dweller makes a sound, and a little symbol appears above its head in a little circle. Press down the O button longer, and the sound is louder and the symbol bigger. Hold it down long enough, and you leap in the air, the sound reverberating around you. Though you have no clue what the symbol translates to, you know this is its language – this is how it talks. But who exactly are you talking to?
I was in the second chapter, and I had just come out of a short cinematic. Off in the distance I saw something fluttering, something that looked like my scarf and the other bits of tapestry that float about the environment. Except there was no mistaking that this was a scarf similar to my own, attached to the back of another person that looked just like me.
I was no longer alone.
Who was this other being? I didn’t know or think that I would run across anyone else. And I certainly didn’t think that they would be another player-controlled character. But that’s exactly what I was witnessing. It was absolutely surreal. At first I thought it was nothing but a computer controlled NPC, but it’s actions were too random and too focused at the same time. It had goals, it would get fixated on completing them, and it would try different ways of doing things until it was successful.
And then it started talking.
Well, not really talking, but you know that little speech symbol and sound I told you about earlier? The way you talk to things and interact with the magic fabric around you? You can hear when the other player does that, and they can hear you too. It is your language, after all.
You converse with each other by way of nothing more than little strings of chirps and chimes. It’s surprising how quickly it just clicks, and before you know it you feel like you know what they’re saying. You tell each other things without ever saying a real word. You point out golden, scarf extending symbols. You help by showing the solutions to puzzles. You warn of impending danger.
Your Journey is not without peril…
Danger comes in a few forms while you’re on your Journey.
I’ll say it again because I feel like if you know this before you play the game you’ll ruin the experience – If you want to experience Journey to the fullest then please stop reading. Buy the game. You don’t even need to leave your house.
Still here? There is really only one thing in the game that can harm you. About halfway through you come across some giant creatures – mechanical worm-like beasts – that float through the sky with a single menacing red eye. Their eye also acts as a spotlight, and they are singularly looking for one thing – you. When their gaze comes across your or your companion the bright light turns red, and it comes after you with a terrible ferocity, destroying parts of your ever-growing scarf if it manages to get you.
The only other real threat to you is the wind at certain points in the game, and for the most part it isn’t so much of a danger as it is a hindrance, keeping you from getting to where you need to go.
“Getting there is half the fun…”
Or so the old saying goes. In this case though, the Journey is everything, and what an amazing Journey it is.
I’ve never seen an entire game come together the way Journey does. It’s unique in its presentation, never trying to be a graphical powerhouse, yet due to spectacular art direction it has some of the most incredible visuals I have ever seen in a video game. The gameplay itself is smooth, simple, and intuitive, yet is sincerely fun and rewarding. And the fact that you get to share that experience with someone else is just so cool. There are no lobbies to join, no friend lists to search through – you just start your game and sooner or later you’ll run across someone to share your Journey with, and at the end of it all you get a list of all those you’ve run across on your way. Only then do you know the identities of those who trudged along beside you. It’s so simple and elegant that it makes you wonder why it’s never been done before, or if it could even work in another game besides Journey. You realize that people play the game differently, communicate differently. It makes the world feel truly alive and adds to the mystique of the game.
Yes, Journey is a game in the mechanical sense of the word, but it is so much more than that. It is a magical ride that everyone should experience at some point. Not just gamers, but literally everyone.
In many ways, this is the hardest review I’ve ever written. It’s taken me longer to write this review than it took me to complete my Journey. Part of the reason is because it’s so incredibly unique. Part of the reason is because Journey is such an indescribable experience that words simply can’t do it justice.
With most reviews I’m trying to give you an objective description of the game – but with Journey I’m trying to pick every word carefully, doing everything possible to ensure that you buy this work of art and make your way through its world. It’s short, taking 2-3 hours to complete, but that should not turn you away. You can and will play it again, your jaw dropping at the sheer beauty of it all.
Journey is an experience like nothing else I’ve seen in my many, many years of playing games. I’ve played many great games, read many astounding books, and seen all kinds of beautiful works of art. Journey is an experience that sits at the very top with the best of them.