Are games art? It’s a question that has become sort of a hot-button issue in the gaming community over the past few years. In fact, it has come up so often in recent months, that I cringe every time I see it mentioned. Yet, here I am, uttering it in the very first sentence of this review. My personal belief is that games ARE art. No matter what the game, it is art. How anyone (namely, pricks like Roger Ebert) can say otherwise blows me away. I won’t sit here and preach to you one way or another, but it was the 10,000lb elephant in the room. Yes, games are art. Yes, Journey may well be gaming’s Mona Lisa. I went there.
I resisted reviewing this game for a few weeks now. Everywhere I looked, it was Journey this and Journey that. I will be the first to admit, I didn’t buy the hype. Everyone was saying that it was a great game, but I ignorantly dismissed it.
“Ah, it’s just a downloadable game. I’ll try it eventually”
Stupid. I am so stupid for ever uttering that sentence. This is the exact mentality that Journey is up against. Journey is too good to be dismissed by anyone, least of all a self-confessed gaming-guru like myself. And this is where things are going to get very interesting. Why, you might ask? Because I don’t consider Journey a “game” in the traditional sense. In what follows, I am going to have to try to convey just how amazing Journey is, while also making you fully aware that it’s not really a game. Here we go….
When I say Journey isn’t a game, what I really mean is that the “gameplay”, so to speak, is the smallest and most minor aspect of Journey. You won’t find orcs or goblins brandishing swords and axes. You won’t see a mini-map haphazardly smattered across your screen telling you where to go. Really, aside from a few verrrrrrrrrrrrrry light platforming sequences, you are pretty much just walking the main character from point A to point B. When you strip away all the bells and whistles, that is all at boils down to. Walk from A to B. What makes the experience (I REFUSE to call this a game) so perfect are those bells and whistles that I just said to strip away.
So let me set this up. When you begin Journey, you take control of a nameless being. All you know about him is that he/she is wearing a long flowing scarf (I named him Scarf. Short for Scarfolemew) and you are in a barren, desolate desert. The only thing that you can make out is the summit of a mountain on the horizon. There is no big green arrow saying “go here!”, but instinctively, you know you should probably check it out. Thus begins your journey. As you traverse the dunes, you may encounter other scarf-wearing beings. At first, you assume they are NPCs (non playable/player characters). What you soon realize though, these are actually other people currently playing Journey. There is no way to really interact with these players. No way to help them on their quest. They are there simply to share the experience with you, It’s a simple concept, but it’s brilliant in its execution. As I said before, this isn’t a game that you are playing. It’s an experience. And isn’t every experience (ehhh, almost every experience) better when shared with someone? That question isn’t rhetorical. The answer is yes.
Now, you and your new-found friend venture forward toward the precipice of the mountain ahead. As I traversed the landscape, I couldn’t help be let my jaw drop at what I was seeing. I mentioned already that this is a downloadable game, so keep that in mind while I tell you this. Journey is possibly the most gorgeous game I have ever seen. The sand effects are particularly amazing. Uncharted 3 has absolutely nothing on Journey. What is even more impressive are the lighting effects. Truly, if you want to show off your shiny new 1080p flatscreen, fire up Journey. It really is breathtaking. While I marveled in the sights before me, I realized that I didn’t once think that I wasn’t playing a game. I found myself getting lost within Journey’s world.
I won’t go through much of what actually happens throughout the course of Journey. To do that would cheapen the experience for anyone who hasn’t played it. So let me go back to those bells and whistles that I talked about earlier. I have already talked about the stunning graphics on display, but even more impressive is the soundtrack. It is nothing you haven’t heard before, but the music is used so tastefully and tactfully, that it is impactful. What still resonates in me is how the score soared and swelled as I neared the summit of the ominous mountain. I don’t remember ever feeling the same sense of wonder and pure joy in a “game” ever. This one moment is the most memorable of anything I have ever played. I don’t say that lightly, either. I have been a hardcore gamer for my entire life. At this moment, it was like every game I have ever played just came together all at once. It was amazing, and it’s an experience I wish everyone could share.
As I start to wrap this up, I still feel like I haven’t conveyed exactly what makes Journey so perfect. It’s such a difficult thing to review, because I think that the experience can differ so wildly from player to player. And now that I think about it, maybe that is Journey’s greatest success. It can’t be pigeon-holed as an “adventure game” or and “rpg” or as a “platformer”. I brought this up earlier, but it’s almost better to not think of Journey as a game at all. I think of it as an interactive experience. It’s like being in control of a pixar movie akin to Wall-E. It’s gorgeous, and it evokes all sorts of emotions without so much as one word being uttered by the main character.
All I can say is please play Journey. It’s not often that developers take risks like this, and we are all lucky the ThatGameCompany took the plunge. I have been playing games for 25 years, and I can safely say that Journey ranks among the very best I have ever played. Its excellence can’t be overstated. Get Journey. I beg of you. And once you get it and play it, please (please, please, please, please) come back and tell me what you think – whether you loved it or hated it. I am willing to bet that every person takes something different away from it. I’m also willing to bet that every person will be affected by it.
I give Journey 5 out of 5 stars.