Review by discoinferno84

"Pilgrim, it's a long way to find out who you are..."

A traveler stands in the desert. His tanned robes and scarf are caked with sand, and the fabric billows in the slight breeze. A hood shields his face from the world, but it does little against the glaring sun. The light permeates everything; the glow is blinding, overwhelming. The heat exposure will kill him long before he starves. It'd be so easy for him to collapse and rot right here. But he knows better. The surrounding dunes are marked with hundreds – possibly thousands – of graves. The corpses of his fallen predecessors lay hidden beneath his feet. They are relics of a bygone age, with only chunks of metal to confirm their existences. The traveler cannot let himself die here. He has come far, but he has much further yet to go. A mountain on the horizon beckons him forth, and he wanders deeper into the shifting sands.

A few dunes later, the edge of a half-buried city comes into view. There's no indication of what happened to this civilization; the crumbled remains of houses are as empty as the world around them. The few standing buildings are decorated with fragmented artwork and tattered remnants of fabric. While it doesn't look like there's anything left, the traveler knows better. When you press a button, he sings a note that blends into the subtle, ambient music. The longer you hold down, the louder and more powerful the song will be. His voice becomes a sphere that envelops everything within a given area. Though it bounces off most surfaces, it interacts with certain objects. Decorative markers light up and unveil intricate mosaics. The limp, torn banners suddenly burst to life with magical energy, flapping and twisting in the breeze like oversized seaweed. Dragons and jellyfish made of cloth dance in midair, practically begging the traveler to fly with them. By getting close enough to them and singing again, he takes to the skies, temporarily denying the shackles of gravity.

It doesn't last long, though. The magic fades – you can tell by the way energy steadily flows out of the traveler's scarf – and the quest for the mountain summit continues. At first glance, Journey seems open-ended; the landscape is sprawling in scope, and the images of sand dunes and ancient temples stretch into forever. It's deceptive in that regard; if you stray too far from a given path, you'll be quickly sent tumbling by a powerful gust of wind. Despite its linearity, however, the game has several nooks and crannies for you to discover. Most of them are just for the sake of atmosphere, but quite a few areas offer insight into the lost civilization as they allow you to explore further. There are also a handful of hidden pickups strewn throughout each chapter; collecting all of them gives the traveler a new robe and regenerating jump magic. Puzzle solving is minimal at best; aside from singing at a couple of objects to activate bridges, sneaking past monsters, and avoiding timed wind bursts, there's little standing in the way. It's intentionally simplistic; rather than battling creatures or fiddling with equipment, you're meant to soak in the beauty and atmopshere of every moment.

You won't be alone, either. As things progress, Journey will randomly pair you with other gamers playing the same chapters. You're not told who they are until after the ending credits; the only identifications are unique symbol that flash whenever they sing. There is no text messaging, voice chat, nothing. Only bodily movement, musical notes, and the ability to sit down and meditate. You might be able to work out a primitive version of Morse Code, but little else. Normally, such lack of communication options is a detriment to a game. In an era in which so many people rely on Internet connectivity, gamers expect quick and direct exchanges. However, this style of communication doesn't hinder Journey in the slightest; instead, it demonstrates the entire point of the game's design. It's not about combat or who can make it up the mountain the fastest. It's about teaching others what they've learned. If you're lucky, your companion will be willing to show you all the secrets and pickups. There's no bragging or anything to show off; just simple, honest knowledge that can be passed on to other players. If travelers sing in tandem, they can replenish each other's magic and get through areas faster. More importantly, however, is the connection you make along the way. People can share an epic experience, regardless of language barriers.

And what an experience it is. Journey can be beaten in about an hour, but it crams every second of it with gorgeous visuals. Much like the gameplay design, the graphics revolve around simple but elegant concepts. The characters' robes flow with even the smallest movement. When the traveler sings a powerful note, the sand ripples realistically from the effects. The way the dunes move with the wind is utterly mesmerizing. The buildings, despite lacking the same detailed texturing as other PS3 games, feature dazzling Arabesque design. The swooping archways, the massive towers, and deep hallways give the ruins an incredible sense of scope. It makes you feel smaller, like you're just a tiny piece of a greater whole. The game drops you into a river of fast-flowing sand, letting you leap and dive over makeshift ramps like a snowboarder. As you get deeper into the stage, the camera smoothly turns, stunning you with a side-angle view of a seemingly endless cityscape set against the gilded glow of an incredible sunset. Others are a bit more subtle; you can feel the panic as you're chased through dark, musty ruins by ancient monstrosities. Those have nothing on that final, heart-wrenching climb up the mountain. You and your companions will spend those last few, poignant moments trying to keep each other going amidst impossible odds, and the results may surprise you.

That can be said for the game as a whole. Journey is an amazing experience. It ditches established gameplay concepts in favor of providing something fresh and unique. There is little in terms of obstacles or puzzle solving; there is simply a world of epic scope and incredible design. While the stages are rather brief and linear – the game can be beaten several times in a single afternoon – there are just enough pickups and hidden areas to keep things interesting. The social aspect of the multiplayer is its best achievement; it allows gamers to mingle without any kind of modern communication, giving them chance to connect with each other on a more meaningful level. This game isn't about competition, but about teaching and understanding. It lets people share a memorable moment; you don't need words to understand the emotional impact of an epic quest. If anything else, Journey serves as a metaphor for life itself; everyone is essentially given the same ending, but it is the choices you make and individuals you meet that make all the difference. It's a positive message that few, if any games have ever demonstrated so well. So do yourself a favor and play this at least once. Much like the real thing, Journey isn't about how it ends, but how you get there.

Reviewer's Rating:   4.5 - Outstanding

Originally Posted: 03/20/12, Updated 03/21/12

Game Release: Journey (US, 03/13/12)

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