System: Playstation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: March 13, 2012
For three months, Journey has been sitting untouched on my PS3 hard drive. I heard the critical acclaim, and even read glowing reviews from a couple of my favorite bloggers, but for some reason I kept procrastinating on playing what many declared one of this year’s best games. Finally, on a quiet Saturday evening, I sat down with one of my favorite stouts (New Holland’s Dragon Milk) and one goal in mind: to play Journey from beginning to end.
With little introduction or back-story, Journey begins immediately in a massive, seemingly endless desert. The immensely luminous sun shines ever so brightly, scorching the drifts of sand below. A robed figure suddenly appears. This is the (unnamed) main character. There’s a mountain off in the distance. With nothing but sand in every other direction, it seems this is the most plausible destination. And so begins our quest in this mysterious world.
There is little to no handholding in Journey, so this is our world to discover on our own. A few very brief tutorials in the beginning demonstrate how to move, jump and emit noises, but that’s it. All we know is that we are in the middle of nowhere, and there is a large mountain way off in the distance that appears to be our end goal.
Occasionally another robed figure will appear in the game. These are other gamers who temporarily join in for an individual area. Communication is at its most primal with these brethren. Neither voices nor text can be used to talk; instead, the characters can only communicate by emitting patterns of “singing”. The longer a button is held down, the louder the sound. This works surprisingly well, as it’s possible to feel more connected to other players when the only form of communication is non-verbal.
The first time I encountered another figure, I felt relieved. No longer was I alone in this world, and soon the two of us were helping each other solve puzzles so we could move onto the next area. The occasional songs between us gave us a sense of companionship, and we knew we were in the exact same position — two strangers in an unknown world.
And what a gorgeous world it is. Journey’s environments are often breathtaking and could easily hold their own against games with much larger budgets. Watching sand get kicked up as the figure roams the desert is a sight to behold, and the sliding animations are even more impressive. The color scheme, the backdrops, everything is just beautiful. This is all backed with a moving soundtrack from composer Austin Wintory, and it is one that responds directly to actions on screen. This is very much an audio/visual experience, and to that extent, Journey undoubtedly succeeds.
Unfortunately, Journey’s biggest problem is its brevity. I completed the adventure in just 90 minutes, and most will rarely eclipse two hours. For $14.99, that’s not a lot of gameplay. I think it’s fair to compare this to seeing a movie at the cinema — $15 is still a little steep by that logic, but it’s difficult to compare this to similarly priced games.
To this point, Journey isn’t a game for everyone. I’m actually quite shocked to see it holding strong with a 92 Metacritic rating, as its slow pacing is bound to throw off some gamers. Regardless, this a unique experience that cannot be found elsewhere in today’s gaming scene, and it is a must play for those curious about it. While I may not have encountered the overwhelming sense of emotion discovered by some — I read of several players wiping away tears near the end — I am certainly glad I was able to take my own personal journey.