Reviews are by their nature subjective. I have no idea if your time spent with Journey will be as meaningful as it was for me. Personally, I cried at the end. Happy tears? Sad tears? I think they were mostly tears of loss. I didn't make the journey alone. I don't know if I went back and did it again, if the second time would be different. I do know that no game has ever affected me in the way thatgamecompany's latest has. And it's a slow burn, too. Some games go for the in-your face, over-the-top action to make an impact on you. And that's fine. Two great games from late last year, Uncharted 3 and Saint's Row: The Third, did this. But this style rarely creates the kinds of games that stick with you long after you turn the console off. Journey is different. Journey is the kind of gaming experience that – at least for this reviewer – is a once-in-a-lifetime trip.
At first, you are just dropped into the desert. A few on-screen prompts are all you're afforded, and all you need. You see a shape in the distance – the only thing that's not a sand dune. You walk towards it, and then… you begin to discover things. Things about this magical world you've fallen into, things about your anonymous teammate, things about yourself. Journey gives you the least amount of controls and “game” elements necessary to make you feel. You feel the joy of finally working out how to ride the winds up into the sky, the awe of your first encounter with a colossal enemy, the isolation of trudging alone up a cold, harsh mountain.
There have been plenty of games where it's you against the world. But, with the possible exception of survival horror, none of them create the sense of aloneness that Journey does. It's not fear, but wonder you feel. It's not sadness, but freedom. Sliding down a dune on your way to a speck in the distance – the only blight on an otherwise pristine landscape – you imagine the possibilities of what you'll find next. When the whole world is smooth, the slightest blemish – a rock, a waving piece of cloth, an crumbling stone ruin surrounded by nothingness – is a discovery of Armstrong-ian proportions. I've never been so excited in a game just to find something, anything. This is what Journey does better than any game that has come before.
At just around 2-3 hours, this is an experience you can have over and over, whenever a rainy afternoon makes you feel like so many things in your life haven't turned out the way you've wanted and dreamed and known that they could.
This morning, I went to bed after finishing the game at around 1 a.m. with a renewed sense of hope. Hope for games, hope for nameless people on the internet, hope for my future, hope that tomorrow will be even better. What will I discover? Will I round a corner on my lunch break and discover a previously unknown, new friend, maybe one that wears the same scarf I do, and we hit it off, then decide to hang out and go on some real life adventures together? Is it this easy, and I've just been so blinded by the faceless landscape of my daily life that I've missed the little things that are really important? No game has ever come close to making me consider these things, and that alone makes Journey a success, a miracle of design.
I realize I haven't really gone into the game's mechanics much, and have been speaking largely in generalizations. Regarding the “game” aspects, they're just fine. There are some floaty flying mechanics like in Flower. There is a gorgeous water color art style. The soundtrack can be described as beautifully relaxing.
You only have to use two buttons on the entire controller, and that's just fine, too. The game mechanics aren't there to hold you back; they're merely a catalyst, a bridge to deliver you entirely into this magical world. You don't even have to control the camera with the right stick if you don't want to – the SixAxis camera controls work just fine, although the right analog stick seems to override it (perfect for someone playing the game, say, laying down, with one arm around your lady as she falls asleep on your chest to the remarkable soundtrack; hard to keep your controller level in that position, but so worth it).
What makes this game so affecting? It's not trying to tell you a story. It puts you in a desert, and you head toward the only thing on the horizon that isn't sand. You walk, and jump, and make understood bloop noises at whomever's path you happen to cross. The “game” is secondary. Sure, there are trophies to win and a definite end goal. But the world, your world, is a place that exists as much in your imagination as in the pixels on the screen. Spoiling any more Journey would be doing you a disservice, and I refuse to steal the most sublime gaming experience of my life from yours.
If you're wondering whether or not you should buy Journey, you should. Good sales will prove that the world wants more out of their games than shooting people in the face with rocket launchers. Good sales will help make the world realize that games are growing up, that they're not just for kids, that they can make you think, feel, and love.
5 Stars out of 5
***A 5 Star game is a wonderful, special experience. It's a rare showcase of gaming's unlimited potential, and should be played by all.***
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