The journey of a lifetime is about to begin
The argument that video games should be considered art has been raging for years now, but never have I played a game as artistic as Journey. Acclaimed developer thatgamecompany is back at it again, bringing us their most ambitious creation to date, one that is surely going to change how many people view games for years to come. It may seem simple on the outside, but Journey is literally a window into the very essence of the human condition.
What Journey Got Right
Gorgeous settings - Hard to believe an adventure set in the middle of a desert could be so beautiful, but Journey stands head and shoulders above anything we've seen in recent times when it comes to visuals. Each "area" is lovingly crafted to immediately look and feel different, yet still be connected seamlessly to the previous area. The most impressive feature however would have to be the sand technology; dunes and loose grains of sand simply swell under the force of the wind, and each dune seems to react accordingly to your weight and presence. Journey is simply one of the greatest looking games we have seen, ever.
Ambiguous story - There are no lengthy dialogue scenes to sit through and no text screens to read when exploring the world of Journey. The story is drip-fed to the player via subtle glyphs that can be found in the game world. While these certainly point to some kind of " occurrence", even then the story is never exactly clear. That's not to say it's badly written; it's simply ambiguous which is what makes Journey such a unique experience. Each and every single player of the game will walk away with a different view of the events, and it will surely create a number of heated discussions of forums across the globe.
Amazing production values - It's not just slick visuals that pull players in to the world of Journey, it's amazing production values the whole way round. The score is simply amazing, controlling the mood of each area to a point that I'd highly recommend you play this game wearing a good set of headphones if possible. The minimalist approach when it comes to text, the fact there is no HUD at all, and the simple nature of the controls all aid to providing a thrilling and immersive experience.
Subtle online interaction - Take the journey alone or with a friend; when connected to the PSN you will randomly come across other players who are in the same area as you. One at a time, you can join forces with these players, recharging each other's abilities and exploring together. There is no way to communicate them other than a wordless chirp that can be activated by hitting the circle button. It may not seem like much, but these small interactions chance the experience significantly, changing Journey from an isolating experience into something quite social. It's a stark contrast, and one that was definitely worth exploring.
What Journey Got Wrong
Length vs. cost - Journey is a short affair - it should only take most gamers 2 hours to complete the quest, and at $20, that can seem a little steep to some people. I implore you to look at it a different way; would you rather pay $20 for 40 hours of mediocre gameplay, or for 2 hours of a sublime, original and breathtaking experience?
Not exactly a "game" - There are no scores, no enemies to defeat, no weapons and no power-ups to discover in Journey. It's an exploration-driven quest that should promote you to think and reflect upon the events that unfold. In some people's minds, it may not be the traditional form of a game, but rather a work of art instead.
The Final Verdict
Upon the completion of Journey, I simply sat back on my couch and contemplated the events that had just unfolded. Unlike other games that have a clear goal, story and conclusion, Journey let the player create their own story, taking in tidbits given out via our own interpretation of glyphs presented to us as we progress. It is through this innovative notion that Journey remains a mystery; a personal experience that is going to be completely different for everyone. If you own a PS3 and you don't believe video games can be art, then you simply need to play five minutes of this fantastic quest to see that you are wrong.
By Stephen Heller - Tweet @Heller_MMGN