I may as well warn you now that this review isn’t really going to tell you why you should play SEN-exclusive Journey. It’ll discuss the gameplay and the graphics and the amazing soundtrack, but none of that will really convey what makes Journey so remarkable. It’s not something you can commit to words, really, it’s something you have to feel. Should you choose to play the game – and I really hope you do – your trek through the ruins will be a very personal experience, the impact of which only you will truly understand. It won’t change your life, but it just might change your thoughts about what videogames can accomplish.
Journey is elegantly uncomplicated. Your goal is to make your way from your starting point in the desert to the mountain you can see looming in the distance. You’ll have to solve a few simple puzzles along the way, such as figuring out how to extend a bridge or reach a high ledge, but their solutions are so clear that you’ll never feel stumped or even particularly challenged. You’ll find the solutions simply by exploring the landscape, which you’ll want to do in part to track down hidden collectibles, and in part because it’s just so damn beautiful. Your path will take you through the remnants of a long-abandoned civilization, a handful of structures poking their way up through the sand. Bits of cloth flutter among the buildings, and though at first they look like nothing more than decoration, you soon learn that they are your main tool for navigating the terrain.
When you begin the game, you receive a scarf that gets a bit longer every time you find a glowing symbol. When your scarf is fully charged, you can fly, which helps you reach out-of-the way locations. The bits of fabric you see fluttering around will recharge your scarf, or even supercharge you for a bit so that you can fly extra high. Sometimes, they even act like magic carpets, sliding under your feet and whisking you away to another location. Their presence is both friendly and comforting, as they gracefully float ahead to guide you through the dunes, or twirl around you like a tiny cyclone as though they’re delighted to see you.
Besides walking and flying, the only other thing you can do in Journey is sing, which you’ll do to unfreeze large pieces of tapestry, light up glyphs and, most importantly, communicate with your companion. You’ll meet a new traveler in each section of Journey, though you won’t know anything about them. They’ll look just like you, swathed in a cloak like a particularly chic (and particularly tall) Jawa, and due to the game’s complete lack of words or chat, your communication with them will be limited to the chirps and notes you can sing. Sometimes, they’ll just want to head off and do their own thing, but more often than not, you’ll become a duo, making your way through the ruins together.
It’s through this interaction with your fellow traveler that Journey reveals its astounding depth. Without the ability to so much as point or draw stick figures, you manage to form profound connections with your companions, interpreting a complete personality from little more than a few musical tones and the length of their scarf. Not all of those connections are positive, however; some players will charm you, but others will undoubtedly annoy you. Playing Journey is as much about examining human nature and your reactions to it as it is about making it all the way to the mountain.
Journey is best experienced with someone at your side, but you might want to play a few times by yourself simply to stand around and gawk at the stunning imagery. This game understands the power of nuance – the way the sands shift under your feet or how your scarf flaps as you climb to the top of a ruin. Bits of fabric will come together to form fantastic creatures, a change in lighting will turn an otherwise unremarkable chamber into an underwater seascape. Journey is quietly beautiful, demanding your attention not by shouting at you, but by whispering. The game’s soundtrack is as moving as its scenery – the cello solo that serves as the main theme is especially striking. Journey doesn’t just want you to shlep through a bunch of wrecked buildings and sand, it wants you to feel the solitude of the empty spaces and discover the life still within.
Bottom Line: Journey is incredibly short – you’ll finish in about two hours – and it’s not really all that challenging in the traditional gameplay sense. But it will be meaningful to you in a way that a bigger, louder, flashier game won’t.
Recommendation: It’s a genuine masterpiece that will undoubtedly be on countless “best games of 2012” lists. Play it.[rating=5]
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment