Journey (2012)

9.75

While many of my favorite video games throughout history tell stories that evoke emotional reactions through character development, plot twists, and touching moments, these are all areas in which video games are largely following in the footsteps of other media such as movies and novels which have been around for much longer. But as an interactive medium, there are also a lot of concepts and ideas that only video games can achieve. And my favorite of these is the ability to get lost in other worlds. Playing through Shadow of the Colossus was the first time I felt isolated exploring an otherworldly realm, and it was an experience that I’ll never forget. But after playing Journey, I’m not sure that it hasn’t now been surpassed.

Emotional, thoughtful and engaging, Journey’s brief one to two hour journey carries the sort of weight that I’ve seen 30-hour RPGs fail to muster. I can say with certainty that I’ve never had such a brief experience in a video game conjure up so many different emotional experiences and few have ever left me in tears by the end. Journey did both without uttering a single word on a premise that couldn’t be simpler.

All you know when you begin Journey is that you need to travel to a large mountaintop in the distance. You’re given no background or context as to why your shrouded avatar needs to make this journey, but you get the feeling that it is of utmost significance, particularly as the pilgrimage unfolds. Along the way, you will encounter some simple puzzles and platforming challenges, as well as brief cutscenes that provide further insight into Journey’s melancholy atmosphere, but it’s really the breadth and scope of the sandy world that Thatagamecompany have lovingly crafted that is the star of the show.

Journey also houses a unique concept that sent a ripple effect through video games that is still felt today; online cooperation. Video games have always been a social medium from the arcade days through the advent of XBOX Live, but I’ve never felt more empathetically linked with another player than I did with the complete stranger that accompanied me through much of my time in Journey. When he or she eventually shriveled to dust during one of the games most dramatic moments, I was struck by how sad I felt, like I had been abandoned in this world with only my final goal pushing me forward. There are deep, almost spiritual ideas floating around here regarding cooperation, loss and re-incarnation that really must be experienced to be understood.

As much as I would like to go on about the ins and outs of the world of Journey and the mysterious creatures, dramatic set-pieces, and untold beauty there is to be found within its world, I fear that any more context would unncessarily encroach on a reader’s experience, should he or she choose to pick up the game after reading this review. But I will say that there is no doubt in my mind, Journey stands comfortably alongside the titans of this industry. It is perhaps the greatest single argument in favor of video games as an art, and deserves mention in the lexicon of the greatest video games ever created.

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