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Journey: A Review

by A.E. Ash

I don’t often write game reviews, but when I do, they are frothing geekery and squee. Today, I’m specifically frothing about Journey from That Game Company, a Playstation 3 exclusive (more about that bit later).

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Yeah, I know it’s “an older game” for a past generation of console. But Journey is not just a game, it’s an experience–and it has a living, breathing, and yes, frothing squee-ing fandom alive to this day to prove that. I won’t talk much about specifics—I can’t, because it wouldn’t help articulate why this game is so impactful anyway. Journey is hard to explain. It is the best kind of non-traditional game narrative. There is no text, at least that we can comprehend. Whatever language exists does so independently of our need to decipher specifics. Because most of all, Journey lives up to its name—it is a progression of sensory experiences that carries us through a world that is luminous, glimmering and gleeful then, as the game progresses, is awe-inspiring, terrifying, heartbreaking, and ultimately, redemptive and cathartic. That’s a lot of Big Good Things in one small game. See, Journey took me less than three hours to complete—a movie’s length of stunning experience. After I finished the game I just sat there, teary and awed. I have never experienced anything like it.

In Journey, we are…whatever this being is:

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Player-character gender is not clear. It doesn’t matter. In fact, a lot of things that exist in other games are simply not relevant here. Our story opens in a desolate desert place awash in golden sun. The gameplay itself is simple–motion-oriented and basic, the controls don’t force a gamer to get snagged in complexity or spamming an attack or dealing with cooldowns. Instead, we learn to move, to interact with places and objects in-game that allow us to float and eventually soar towards the one fixed point throughout the game—a mountain in the distance speared through with a blinding, heavens-high light. We know that we are guided to this place. We pass temples, fly with playful creatures, glide on shimmering sands, and even interact with other players who appear in our world to share certain portions of our journey for a time. There is no chatting, no clearly-stated emotes between players—only a gentle pinging of  light and glowing symbols that ignite a resonate light in the other character. It’s achingly beautiful and sweet and when the world goes dark, it’s comforting to have that other player around. But most powerfully of all, in the end, we are alone. What that means, you will have to discover for yourself.

The narrative, like the controls, is also deceptively simple. Each area implies some piece of the story—other creatures like we are, depicted in mosaics. The rise and implied downfall of their kind. In this now beautiful but lonely world, a great sadness is at times implied. Narrative without words, conveyed through image and sound and the stunning soundtrack by composer Austin Wintory.

At the end of the game, I was left with chills, with tears, and with warmth in my soul that was not there before. As the credits roll and “I Was Born For This” plays, I knew this was an experience I wanted others to have. The names of the characters who, for a brief time, shared the world with me flashed over the screen. Seeing these gamertags made me cry even more because I realized that somewhere in the world, someone else was sitting there, controller in hand, experiencing what I had just gone through. Whoever she was, whatever he felt, I couldn’t know—only that these other players had been a part of this ineffably powerful narrative.

We shared the journey. In a world where divisiveness is everywhere and so much vitriol can exist in forums and comments sections and, even worse, in the stark realities of everyday human life, Journey was a light in my heart—a shared experience where I was reminded that no matter how difficult the road is, no matter how bleak things can seem, hope and persistence and kindness shine through the darkness, and sometimes things can be beautiful beyond words.

The only critique I have of this game is a practical consideration: THERE IS NO PC PORT, I REPEAT…NO PC PORT. Journey was and still is a PS3 exclusive. However, there seem to be developer tweets and posts from earlier this year referring to the PS4 port that is apparently still on track, if TBA. I hold out hope that this game at least matures as newer generations of consoles come out–the world needs more games like this.

Have any of you ever played a game that rocked your world this way? I’d love to hear it in the comments section!

A bit about the columnist:

Once upon a time there was a nerd who wrote books and poems about magic, mayhem, pew-pew and space and she lived awesomely ever after with her hubby and only mildly nefarious felines. Visit author page

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