‘Journey’ Review – Why Can’t This Game Go On Forever?
A small glint on the distant horizon, that’s all it took. A little glimmer out the corner of my eye and I was off, faithfully diving head first off the gigantic tower I’d spent the best part of the last 5 minutes scaling. If this was any other game, a game other than Journey for the PS3, I probably wouldn’t have cared. But I just couldn’t help myself, I wanted to know what was there dammit! I wanted to see everything this game had to offer and I wanted more of that sweet sense of exploration I was quickly coming addicted to! Did I actually find anything? In the end, it doesn’t really matter. (Hell yeah I did!)
Now, please forgive me for making a shockingly obvious statement that I bet turns up in just about every review of this game: Journey is about just that, a journey. But it’s not the usual kind we see in video games, the kind that’s been tightly scripted down to every last second by the developers. No, it’s a dynamic experience, it’s your journey. There are no maps, no waypoints and no giant arrows in the sky. You’re a hooded figure that’s been plonked into a desert, figure the rest out for yourself!
I really don’t want to get much more specific than that. With this game being so dependant on exploration and discovery, just about anything I could tell you about it would compromise that experience on some level. Hell, I’m not even going to recommend you watch the trailer below this paragraph! Those screenshots? Uh…just pretend they’re ads for some sleazy poker site or something. Ok, you know what? Just stop reading this article right this second and go play Journey, that’s what you should do. Seriously, don’t bother reading the rest of this thing. I really won’t be upset, promise!
What? Still Here? Hmm ok, I guess you need a bit more convincing, huh? Well alright, let’s get down to the nitty-gritty then. If I really had to categorise this thing, I’d say it was a platformer, but only in that progress tends to involve jumping between stuff a lot. Don’t get me wrong, Journey is worlds apart from the Italian plumber and his colleagues. You won’t be boppin’ any monsters on the head for one thing and the amount of skill required to finish it is minimal at best. Although I suppose there are “enemies” that deal “damage” of a kind. Even the mere mentioning of vague stuff like that makes me feel I’m saying too much.
Okay, how about something less specific? Visually, Journey is incredible. It’s a beautiful, beautiful game without a doubt (yes, double beautiful). But it’s not a high-tech kind of beauty; it’s not super high-res textures or astronomical polygon counts. It’s something way simpler than that, something far harder to define. Sure, I could take the lazy route and whip out old Mr. Thesaurus at this point, but that just wouldn’t do Journey’s glistening vistas any justice whatsoever. All I can really say is that I’m shocked any of this runs on 5+ year old hardware. Admittedly there’s a bit of an issue when it comes to variety, namely almost all of the environments being variations of “stone [something-or-others] half-buried in sand”. But when every screenshot feels like it should be framed and mounted in a museum, you tend not to get too fussed about that stuff.
There is what you might consider a traditional “storyline” linking all these locations together, but it’s told through highly abstract cutscenes in which not a single word is spoken. If I’m quite honest, I still have very little clue what most of it was really about, not that it really matters mind you. The real stories in Journey, the ones with the most emotional impact, the ones you’ll actually remember, will be of your own making. Stories like the one I opened this article with for example, which are only possible because Journey never overtly demands you to go somewhere. Instead, it gently guides you along the critical path using subtle visual cues. They might seem huge, but I bet if you were to actually map out all the levels, theyd probably look just as linear as any other game’s. But thanks to Journey’s hands-off approach to navigation, it’ll never feel that way. There will always be that sense of raw exploration and discovery every time.
Oh boy, then there’s the co-op. Totally seamless; no matchmaking, or server selection or any of that junk. Simply play long enough and poof! A nameless companion will suddenly appear alongside you. It’s quite a surreal experience to say the least, one that doesn’t really aid you in any significant way on your quest. It’s hella fun though! The first time it happened (and many of the times afterward) complete whimsy took over almost instantly. We both ended up spending a good couple of minutes jumping around some ancient ruins together, constantly mashing the “sing” button to play jaunty tunes and make our randomly assigned emblem flash on screen. I should add that this is the only form of communication the game actually allows between players; you don’t even get to see their usernames!
Yes it’s all slightly ridiculous and mechanically rather pointless, but I honestly can’t understate how quickly you can form an emotional bond with your new companion. Truly, there’s nothing like sussing out a level’s solution alongside a fellow wayward soul or helping them find one of the game’s many hidden collectibles and vise versa. Let’s not forget the heartbreaking moments where life outside the game forces you to go your separate ways, sending you from BFF-heaven right back down to the complete isolation you started the game with.
As I said before, it’s these kind of dynamic, unpredictable and unscriptable micro-adventures that’ll really stick with you the most. If you were the kind of person who likes pretentious and wholly unnecessary analogies (which I am) you might say that Journey isn’t so much a pretty painting, but more like a really spiffy paintbrush. Just do what comes naturally and you too can create your own personal masterpiece by applying paint to canvas. Something like that.
It ain’t easy to put into words how I feel about this game, you know? But that’s exactly what makes it so special in the first place; it’s the kind of experience that’s only possible in this medium of interactive entertainment we all love so much. Alternatively If you were to look at it from a purely mechanical perspective, then yeah, Journey ain’t that mind-blowing. It’s fairly short too, a scant 2-3 hours if you’re not fastidious about collectibles. Normally that’d be a bit of a issue at the £10 price point, but in this case it seems absurd to boil it down to such a basic level; this game is just so much more than that. Provided you’re not dead inside and/or someone averse to the artsy side of gaming, then Journey is a unique interactive poem that’ll jettison you through the whole emotional spectrum in all but a flash.
Okay, I did my bit. Due diligence has been served. Now, just be good to yourself and go play it alright?
Journey for the PS3 is available now for £10 via the PlayStation Network.