The word "experience" gets thrown about far too often in video game reviews these days. Journey may be one of the first games to truly deserve such a title, because it really isn't a "game" in a traditional sense. It isn't a movie, because you're interacting with it. The best word to describe Journey is "art".
And by that, I do not mean how pretty the graphics are. It's the way you traverse through this world presented to you. It does a wonderful job of setting up the premise: you are a shrouded figure making your way to a mountain top, basking in heavenly light. It's far off in the distance, and it will be quite the trek to get there. Thus, you take the first literal steps towards your goal.
Mechanically speaking, everything is simple. You can run, jump, and use some sort of vocal "call". When using the call, a circle expands around you, the size depending on how long you hold the button, that activates certain objects in the environment. Usually, these objects are scarves and fabric coming up from the ground. When activated, these scarves summon a gust that send you into the air, giving you brief flight. Flying is joyful, letting you quickly cross the massive sand-covered dunes. If you can't fly, you're also able to surf down hills of sand in an equally enjoyable manner. The only questionable control choice is the use of Sixaxis to the control the camera. It's obtrusive, but thankfully the right analog stick functions for camera control as well.
That pretty much sums up the gameplay to Journey. You'll surf, glide, and walk to your destination. But it all becomes so much different when you discover that you are not alone.
Early on, you'll suddenly be joined by another, similarly cloaked figure. This is another player going on this journey with you. There is no form of communication between players, either. You can't even see each other's names until the very end. In spite of this, you'll quickly learn to rely on each other. The call button can be used to recharge each other's flight ability, making it handy to stay close and cooperative instead of selfish and malicious. Even though reliance on each other is not necessary to progress, there is an astonishing feeling of loneliness if you discover that they're gone.
The massive desert sands bring this feeling of loneliness home, and it's just so gorgeous to look at. The way the sand kicks up behind your feet and the way it waves from the force of your call is majestic, almost cloth-like. When the sun changes it position and the camera swings in the right way, the sand begins to look like millions of rubies, glistening before your eyes. Some of the caves give an aquatic feeling, even though you're never actually underwater. The way that water is conveyed through the things you see in the environment and how you're flying (or swimming) around is breath-taking. The fabric-creatures you meet have such a distinct personality, and the larger, looming dangers instantly strike fear.
When your eyes aren't salivating over the wonderful artistic style, your ears will bring on the rest of the emotions. The way music is used to enforce the situation you are in is nothing short of brilliant. It simulatneously instills hope, fear, wonder, and serenity. Your ability is accompanied by a song-like tone, slightly changing it's pitch with each press, and it always fits with the music you are hearing.
The only real criticism against Journey is its steep asking price. The "game" can be completed in less than two hours. You'll want to play multiple times, certainly, but $14.99 on the PlayStation Network Store is still quite a bit. There aren't a whole of secrets to be found, aside from magical symbols which increase your flight time and are lost upon each playthrough.
But you have to play it. Buy it yourself, find a friend who already has it, impatiently wait for a price drop, whatever. Anyone who has been a proponent for the "games are art" argument owe to themselves. It truly is one of the most original, unique things to be created in recent memory. I urge you, play Journey.
It's artistic bliss.
(9s represent excellence. Any issues it may have are minor or easily forgiven for what is a fantastic experience.)
|Jared Knabenbauer is the ScrewAttack.com Reviews Editor, Hard News host, and a host of our weekly video podcast, "SideScrollers". He has also produced several notable ScrewAttack shows, including Reboot or Retro, Nametags, and Control Issues. He specializes in RPGs, and has a great fondness for Dungeons & Dragons. A comedian at heart, he is one serious gamer.|
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