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Journey (PlayStation 3) artwork

Journey (PlayStation 3) review


"I'm not going to say I didn't enjoy Journey. That would be a bold-faced lie. I guess what I'm saying is that I enjoyed it, but could have enjoyed it more."



Against my own judgment, I downloaded Journey. When I hear the word "artsy" in relation to a game, that usually sends up red flags. Am I about to delve into something that's intended to be deep and meaningful, yet still grasps concepts like challenge and peril (Shadow of the Colossus), or will I be immersed in breath-taking presentation sadly attached to a mediocre game (Flower)? I feared that Journey would fall under the latter, but a curious part of me still wanted make the pilgrimage.

The first two or three chapters saw my fears confirmed. Journey first arrested me with its earthy presentation. Brown and tan are not usually colors I would associate with beauty, yet somehow this game managed to make the vast desert and the scenery beyond it breath-taking. It's not only in the colors used, but the details: the way the sun shimmered on the grains, the way the dust lifted up from the ground with each footfall, the way my feet left trails rather than cartoony footprints.

The first few chapters were all about taking in the sights and letting the music flow through me. I passed by massive ruins with intricate little details and haunting hints about the preceding culture that dominated the land. It was hard not to stop and stare at the details that went into the setpieces. I often wondered what this ruined world looked like in its prime. Each structure served as a beacon telling me where to go next. Mostly I crept to the next area, taking in the visuals and trying to piece together my own interpretation of the game. Really, that was about it. I pressed onward and didn't find much of a chance to interact.

I found my interest waning. There was so much to see and little to do. I waddled to the next structure, used my musical language to activate statues or liberate flying carpets, and took in the atmosphere. Now and then I met another player, journeyed with them and collaborated very little. Interaction was minute, challenge never popped up, and there was hardly anything to stymie my progress or complicate the mission.

Yet I still humored the game.

Journey asset


The further along I got on my journey, the more I found myself putting my want for challenge on a back burner. I charged through a stage where brown gave way to a deep sea blue. Magic carpets acted like schools of fish or formed together to make mile-high kelp. Though I wasn't truly underwater, the stage created the illusion of it very well. You could float toward the "surface" using the kelp, interact with carpet-jellyfish, and rush past vicious automatons with red eyes that floated like marine predators. Everywhere I went there was a sense of wonder that beckoned me to press onward. I wanted to see what else there was in store for me.

Although there was no death in Journey, there was still a sense of peril. What impressed me was the way ThatGameCompany implemented peril. It wasn't an effect of challenge as it is in most games, but strictly an effect of narrative. Arctic blasts and whiteouts slowed my journey, but getting past them was not an issue. Yet I still felt for your faceless character as he trudged through snow or made lonely ascents up a sand dunes. Even though there was little cooperation, I was still grateful to see another traveler. Maybe this was Journey's aim, to show players that verbal narrative and characterization are not always necessary to have empathy for a character. I knew nothing about my avatar and his life before the game, yet somehow I still ached for him as he trudged through the snow, and felt great for him when another faceless humanoid appeared to assuage the lonesomeness.

When finally I reached the game's climax, I found my perseverance rewarded. Both the visuals and the soundtrack came together in harmony to create one last dazzling display. I ended the game with my heart fluttering, yet a part of it still felt heavy. Even as I went through Journey a second time, something was still missing from the experience.

Journey asset


Though I had let go of my care for challenge, it returned upon completing the game. I looked at some of scenes of plain walking or moseying about, or some of the areas with slight interaction, and wonder what they would have been like had things been more difficult to figure out. When I think of a journey, I think of hardships. My all-time favorite series of novels is The Dark Tower by Stephen King. What made this series great was that it was a hell of a journey, highlighted by friendship, hardships and heartache. Journey has hardships, but implements them in a less interactive way. I may have felt for the character for undertaking those hardships, but let's face it: I play games to experience those challenges myself.

I'm not going to say I didn't enjoy Journey. That would be a bold-faced lie. I guess what I'm saying is that I enjoyed it, but could have enjoyed it more. I know that ThatGameCompany has some great minds on staff that could take an age old concept like challenge and implement it in a fresh (and possibly brilliant) way.

Ultimately, I hold a special place in my heart for Journey. I'm mostly okay with the lack of challenge, because the experience itself--the harmony of visuals, soundtrack and metaphor--helped make up for it. However, it's not a game I can play any time. I have to be in the right mood to enjoy it. This is the kind of game I'd play when I've had a rough day and I just need some beauty to serve as the day's climax. Otherwise, you'll probably find me running over pedestrians, collecting coins, or commanding a contingent of knights. But as long as there are bad days, which are pretty much guaranteed in life, there will always be a good day to take a journey.

Rating: 7/10

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Featured community review by JoeTheDestroyer (June 25, 2012)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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Masters posted June 25, 2012:

Nice review, Joe. It began with some truly excellent writing, and the final paragraph ties things together nicely.

I still do wonder how 'peril' manifests on the journey, though.
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EmP posted June 25, 2012:

I found an odd line:

Arctic blasts and whiteouts can slowed my journey

Otherwise, fine work. I salute you.
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holdthephone posted June 25, 2012:

Nice to read a more sober look at the game, and I agree with all the points you made.

After replaying it a few times I found that I'd only ever go back to the most interactive parts. Everything else is quite slow, and doesn't hold much value after the first playthrough hits so strongly. I loved Braid as well, for example, but I'd never touch the game again. Nothing is going to top the first time I played the last level.

Crazy games these hipsters make.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted June 25, 2012:

Thanks for reading and commenting, everyone!

Masters:
The peril isn't great or threatening to the player, but moreso to the character. It's especially so in the final stage, where you have to deal with flying creatures, ice cold gales and freezing temperatures.

EmP:
Nice catch, thanks!

htp:
I think that's one thing I forgot to mention in the review. Certain elements of style doesn't always hold the same power on repeated playthroughs. I think that's true about any medium of entertainment. A kind of strange example, but the movie Suspiria comes to mind. While I love the movie, nothing compares to the first time I saw it. I was blown away by the gorgeous and intricate sets, not to mention Argento's trademark use of lighting that gives the film a part pulp horror comic-part nightmare atmosphere.
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zippdementia posted June 25, 2012:

I believe we pretty much agree on the game, Joe; though my score was higher, really our thoughts and words were the same. Aside from all that, this is a well written review that confirms my opinion that you should break up your reviews of games with bad covers for something more modern now and again.
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threetimes posted June 26, 2012:

It seems the game captured you despite the reservations. Although maybe you missed out on the companionship aspect which was such a surprise to me. Did you go for all the trophies? That added quite a nice degree of challenge, searching out the hidden glyphs and symbols. And getting that white robe!

Suspiria is an unusual comparison to make but it certainly rivals the game for sheer visual splendour. Blew me away first time watching it and that theme music is so wonderful.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted June 27, 2012:

Zipp:
Thanks! The older stuff I'm covering right now mostly consists of games I reviewed at GameFAQs that I'm bringing over here (currently working on Captain Skyhawk). I do like to take breaks from that every now and then and cover some newer stuff, or at least something that isn't part of the category I'm currently reviewing.

I also reviewed Journey as part of a small project I'm undergoing. There are four games that were low on my priority list, yet were incredibly popular: Journey and the first three Uncharted games. I decided that, one by one, I'm going to purchase all four games, play them, and review them. So, part one complete. Just need to get a copy of the first Uncharted now.

Threetimes:
Thanks! I didn't go for the trophies, but I usually don't. By the time I finish a game, I'm usually ready to start a new one.

Yeah, Suspiria is a great flick. Awesome soundtrack, too! It was the first example that popped into my head. I really love and appreciate the movie, but I don't think it has quite the same effect on me as it did in the first viewing--mainly in terms of visual style. Same goes for its sequel, Inferno. Still, Suspiria is one of my favorite horror films.
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zippdementia posted June 27, 2012:

My quick review of Uncharted 1 is that it's a really fun game which overstays its welcome by a couple levels. And it has a terrible last boss fight.
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zippdementia posted October 10, 2012:

Just a total side note here, but I have to tell Joe that I'm reading the Dark Tower series right now and loving it.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 11, 2012:

I love Dark Tower, except I don't know how I care for the new book (which is essentially book 4.5). I haven't dragged ass this much on a Stephen King book... well, ever...
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zippdementia posted October 11, 2012:

Yeah, I'm planning on skipping that one, actually. I've found that whenever an author goes back and starts inserting books into the middle of a series, it's always unnecessary and never as good as the original works. It's because it's trying to tag on to the main plot arch, like a pimple. There's never a good reason for it; if you truly missed an entire chunk of the arc, then you never would have been able to write the rest of the books so it sort've prevents itself from happening except because the author just can't leave a series alone.

And as much as I like Dark Tower, Stephen King is the definition of an author who cannot leave his own work alone.
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JoeTheDestroyer posted October 11, 2012:

God, for sure. He's retired how many times? He's like the Ozzy Osbourne of horror novelists.

And yet I'm still going to pick up Dr. Sleep when it hits...

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