Magazine, website & books written by teens since 1989

Journey on PS3 This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

Custom User Avatar
More by this author
I like to think I've stood up for video games. I've told disbelieving friends that video games are interactive storytelling. I've told skeptical students that video games have plot. I've told my mom video games have impact. Now, I don't have to say any of that, not a word. I can just give 'em fifteen bucks and directions to the nearest GameStop, because if they think video games don’t have meaning they haven’t played Journey. ThatGameCompany’s newest release is nothing short of magic, truly an enchanting and riveting experience to answer all the parents (and teenagers) who don’t respect video games as a form of art, or don’t think video games can be, simply put, beautiful.

You lift your head and silently muse upon the vast dunes and glittering waves of sand before you. Your two stick-like legs take small steps in the sand, then larger ones as you press into the thick sand of a hill with little stone markers and a fluttering ribbon peaking it. You reach the top of the sand hill, soft music blows by as natural as the sand and you begin your journey as the brown-cloaked traveler, with quiet gold eyes and a silent, shadowy face. Your destination is a mountain with a split peak and a gold light surging in a beam from the split. As you comb the desert with your fluttery cloak you find small red ribbon creatures that gather around you when you let out a melodic ‘chirp’. You fly and twirl through the air. Shrines of a lost civilization are found by this nameless traveler and as he sits at these stones magical paintings glow in his mind, revealing the sad yet hopeful history of the people among the sands. On your journey, you meet other travelers, and if willing you can silently reach your strange destination together.

This is Journey for you, a story as quiet as its protagonist, but perhaps the real meaning of Journey rests in the beauty of its vista and the impact of its musical score. The game begins with a fast rush of music that breaks off suddenly in a quiet and mystical tune that will form the basis for the game’s entire soundtrack. This small melody grows into furious blasts of song when the traveller is pounding through a snowstorm, and sinks into ominous moans when he cautiously walks the dark ruins. It’s not the kind of music where you say, “Wow, that’s amazing”, but the kind where you remain silent like the game’s protagonist and just play. The game uses silence tastefully too. When no score is playing the game has you feel utterly alone, with nothing but the traveler’s soft footsteps reminding you not to check the volume on your television. As the game finishes, I guarantee the ending track will leave you so stunned and emotionally bloated you’ll wonder how I didn’t fall apart while listening to it throughout the writing of this entire review.

When you’re not melting over Journey’s heart-wrenching music, you’re gasping at its beautiful landscapes and asking yourself why sand couldn't look this beautiful in real life. The little gold specks ripple like waves of golden coins in the wind, and there’s a particular sight when the traveler is sliding quickly down sandy hills through ruins and the sun peaks in and the camera pans out to show you the whole vista, a shimmering valley of a golden tide, and you can almost hear ThatGameCompany employees giddy with joy as they give each other well deserved high-fives and fist bumps. When snow begins to fall later on in the game, the image isn’t as pretty, but it certainly isn’t ugly, and depicts the falling hopes of the weathered traveler nicely. The strange ribbon creatures are also very pretty when they light up with blue-whitish glow. Some mountainous rocks have some bland textures but these are only occasional, and could only stand out in a game that is this gorgeous.

The game has simple controls and gameplay that I’d be honest in saying are not as enthralling as either its score or visuals. You can move, jump and fly (if you have the energy, given to you by the ribbon creatures), or chirp, an action where the traveler sounds off a single musical note, which you can use to attract cloth creatures and activate the shrines that serve as cutscenes for the game’s story. Most of the gameplay is walking and flying around, with highlights being adventurous glides down lovely sandy slopes. However, most of the game is a mix of walking and flying, but Journey’s strength isn’t in its gameplay: in fact, the gameplay is just a tool to enjoy everything else this adventure gives you. Actually, I wish the game didn’t tell you the controls, but instead let you figure them out as you played. I was slightly taken out of the experience when a transparent PlayStation controller popped up in front of me saying, “Hold X”, but this only happened a few times and I was largely busy distracting myself with everything Journey gives you to think about. Despite the lack of variety in how it plays, I still found the simple controls and options of what you could do hugely enjoyable. Between deep breaths and ‘saving game’ screens I found myself whispering, almost giggling: “This is great...”. And it really is ‘great’.

Journey is a solemn, sad and beautifully hopeful story if you play alone, but play online and you get a completely different experience: a multiplayer where fellow gamers aren’t spewing tactical strategies over their microphones, or displaying gamertags over their heads like winning lottery tickets. Instead, meeting other players in Journey makes for a warming playthrough. You can only meet one player at a time, and this stranger cannot talk or type, and there are no displayed gamertags, but rather players communicate through meaningful chirps. A little early on in my journey, I saw in the distant dunes another traveler, identical to me, collecting ribbon creatures. Immediately I gave out a loud ‘chirp’, to which the player in the distance chirped back, we met each other halfway between the dunes like the ending of some romantic comedy and played the whole game through together. There are no levels in the game that require you to play with another, but the journey is so much more worthwhile with a teammate. At one point on our venture the wind blew me off a mountain cliff and I would have to climb the whole way up again. When I was on my feet I saw my fellow traveler had jumped off after me, and we made our way back up together. Not everyone is so kindly, though. One traveler just passed me by when I tried to chirp at him, and another just spasmodically spammed my speakers with rampant chirping, and I took my journey alone, still a worthy trip, if not as comforting.

And Journey is a worthy trip, however short. The game only lasts two hours on a typical playthrough, though the option to explore the world more is available to those who want to delve deeper. However, the game doesn’t reward exploring too greatly, with the only treasures to find being more ruins and glowing symbols that increase the length of the traveler’s ribbon scarf. So far I’ve gotten six hours worth of gameplay into Journey, though, and that’s because it’s definitely worth a couple of playthroughs. The small story is joyous to relive, the music always enchanting, and the folks at ThatGameCompany must have sand dunes as their screensavers with how beautiful Journey’s world always looks. Journey is the kind of experience you won’t get enough of even if you’ve got the music on your phone, the sand as your screensaver, and a traveler plush toy next to your PlayStation, and I don’t play many games after I’ve gotten the plush toy.

Employees of ThatGameCompany have stated that when creating a game, instead of starting with game mechanics or story, they map out what they want players to feel. This technique is glaring in Journey, their newest adventure/exploration game that brings power and meaning to the video game art through its compelling score, garish sceneries, and overall fascinatingly provocative experience. The journey may be short, but a single musical score or a single mountain peak is enough to have you think, and that thought in itself comes from a journey only Journey can bring. So rejoice, gamers! Video games are an innovative art, and now you can prove it to anyone who questions it with this single title, your plush toy, and fifteen dollars.



Post a Comment

Be the first to comment on this article!

Site Feedback