Review by Int3rpol
"A Journey every gamer should embark on"
Regarding what many consider to be his finest work, author John Steinbeck stated, "I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this". This statement also holds true for thatgamecompany, makers of Cloud, a little-known PC game, and two downloadable PS3 games, Flow and Flower. From the beginning, TGC has been attempting to create emotional experiences, akin to what one might find in a film, book, or song. While their first two titles were average, it allowed the folks at TGC to experiment, and practice for upcoming titles. Flower, a substantial improvement from Flow, was an excellent game, and hinted at what was to come. Journey is to TGC what East of Eden is to Steinbeck, it's easily their most emotionally involved game, and is a crucial achievement in gaming.
Journey starts off with you assuming control of a mysterious red figure, wandering through a desert, with a large mountain looming in the background. While game never commands the player to go anywhere or complete any specific task, it subtly pushes them in the right direction. For example, the game never outright tells you to head for the mountain, but with a simple camera focus it's implied. This gives the player a sense of control over their journey, despite the game's linear design. This feeling also bleeds into the story, explained throughout your journey via hieroglyphics and a number of silent encounters with another mysterious figure, which never gives concrete answers, allowing for each player to have their own interpretation of the game. If anything, the game raises more questions than it provides answers.
Over the duration of Journey, the figure will be required to traverse a variety of gorgeous areas, each calling forth a distinct emotion. Color is a major factor in level design, with the games more tense moments being flooded with dark blues and black and it's most euphoric splashed with clean, smooth blues and reds, with crisp white thrown in for good measure. The game is an aesthetic masterpiece, constituted of a good variation of environments, ranging from sprawling, seemingly endless deserts, tense, dungeon-like rooms. The emotions packed within these areas are enhanced by it's powerful, impressive score. Much like how the calm, relaxing music in Flower helped establish it's emotion, Journey's soundtrack does the same, and adapts with each level change.
Perhaps one of the most intriguing additions to Journey was it's multiplayer component, allowing your figure to come across another figure, and being able to journey together, or remain alone. While traveling alone permeates a deep sense of loneliness, the multiplayer allows for the polar opposite feeling. While playing alone the only way to recharge your scarf is to find flying cloth pieces, but in multiplayer both chirping and and hanging close to your partner recharge your cloth. Interestingly, I found that this affected the emotional impact of the game more than it did my playstyle, and during the game's more emotionally strenuous moments, I clung to partner for safety, and in the few hours I was with him, I had developed a deep sense of camaraderie and affection for them.
Journey is a landmark achievement in gaming, merely because the fact that it's more than a game; it's an experience. Journey is to gaming what a film is to movies. Every aspect of the game is expertly executed to complement each other, leading to what might be the most emotionally impacting game to date. Whether you agree or disagree with the argument that games can be art, it's hard to imagine calling Journey anything but. It transcends what games have been, and instead focuses on what games should be.
Reviewer's Score: 10/10 | Originally Posted: 03/20/12
Game Release: Journey (US, 03/13/12)
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