Release Date: March 13, 2012
The definition of the word “art” is pretty subjective. What I may classify as artistic, Mary Stevens next to me might see it as vulgar. Video games for the most part are still being debated by the general media on whether they can be fully classified as art or not. Some major news media sites and television channels see video games as offensive and crude – Fox News, ahem – but this isn’t what this review is about. Today, I will be looking at one title that will raise eyebrows on that topic. Journey is a video game developed by Thatgamecompany, the studio responsible for Flow and Flower. If you have either played, seen, or heard about those two before then Thatgamecompany’s involvement in Journey should be of no surprise. They have yet again proven that video games can be and are as expressive as films, books, paintings, drawings, and everything in between. I daresay this game just proves that point outright.
The concept of Journey is original, but could have easily failed in scope and ambition. Where the game excels is in its execution and presentation however. Beginning from the point where you see a white light coming down from the skies like a shooting star, you’re instantly transported to this ethereal setting of magical fantasy. Your purpose in the world as you’ll find out lies in exploring this empty world. You are in the dessert and this mountain is your destination. You must find a path as this robbed figure towards that mountain summit. What makes it even more interesting is the fact that there are (for the most part) no obstacles lying in your way. There are no enemies. It’s just you, the barren dessert, and the mountain looming in the horizon.
The dessert is awe-inspiring. It’s almost, almost possible to see every tiny grain of sand that your robbed hero steps on. You can see it as it rises behind your character’s feet, swaying in the wind, as your character marks a trail along its way. I really liked how the color scheme in the photography changes accordingly in each chapter. At the beginning of the game in the first chapter, the sand looks very orange, then a few chapters ahead it becomes pink, then later blue, and then yellow, and finally white (not sand though). You’ll come to find pieces of flying fabric that will allow your character to hover in the air for seconds. Flying adds more grace to your movements, as well as more freedom to explore. You sometimes must reach certain key elements that extend the scarf which allows you to fly. You must reach them by taking flight.
Journey has assembled a very detailed world full of exotic designs. You can see a pattern in every piece of fiber. There are symbols in carved walls that tell of a story, long forgotten to you. Your charming creature must rediscover it by communicating with it. You must call out to the designs in the walls to open up paths. Sometimes these paths (mostly made out of the same red fabric you sport) will allow you the freedom to breeze through them. I must admit to a feeling of comfort and amazement as I flew through these pathways, which in turn activated as I did so. The exuberance in the art direction oozes right off the screen. I remember flying, running, and walking through certain levels and being captivated by a beautiful landmark such as a tower, or a sand dungeon, and even that magnificent mountain peering below the golden palette of the sun. There is one particular part involving sliding through an open sand tunnel… The beauty there was resplendent and almost even picturesque.
The story in Journey is told through visions revealed to you in what seem to be flashbacks. Now the story isn’t minimalistic, but it is left to the interpretation of the player. You must put the pieces together and make sense of all the dazzling imagery being presented to you. From what I gathered however, Journey seems to be in touch with its inner self. [POSSIBLE SPOILERS] The main theme here seems to be reincarnating from a higher plane (or order) to a fresh beginning. It reminded me of the rebirth of a God who must find his/her way into Nirvana, Satori, or Salvation; whatever you want to call it [END OF SPOILERS]. It’s an extremely elaborate, sophisticated, and even ambitious idea that succeeded in reaching out from its inner self to a curious gamer like myself; in order to invoke emotion, leave a reaction, or mark an impression on me, or anybody who paid $15 to play it. I will speak more about that later however.
One of the strongest assets of this game is the original score. The music is composed by Austin Wintory, who scored Thatgamecompany’s previous efforts: Flow and Flower. He follows those two scores by continuing to accompany the game with symphonies that tell a story, just like the journey itself. The music fits the images it accompanies, but it is so magnificent and grand, that it can stand entirely on its own two legs; like another clothed figured in the mysterious world you’re in. The score enhances the intensity of the experience… I almost felt like I had absolute freedom and the music made it more prominent. I felt like my character was never alone in that alluring world, while I was looking from the outside of the canvas.
Fortunately, you literally won’t be alone in this Journey. The integrated online play makes this an even more fantastic experience. Throughout your Journey you will be joined randomly by other robbed figures. These are actually other players you’re encountering along your adventure. You can neither speak with him/her, nor alter its game, and the same applies to it. The only way to communicate with it is to send out signals by pressing a button on the controller. These cries can help to locate each other, to boost the hovering ability; among other uses. Interestingly enough, you can’t view who’s playing with you, but you are informed after you have finished your journey. This game creates a sense of anonymity unlike any other game, as it pushes the players to form a bond and help one another. You may choose not to help, but this online element makes the journey much more unique.
Now is the price tag of $15 justified? Well, some may not think so, but I certainly do. This games delivers so much with so little (it’s only around three hours long), that I think the price is more than warranted. Besides, who wouldn’t want to support a developer like Thatgamecompany with their artistic expressions labeled as games. So far they have made only three games and all three are so unique when compared to what most developers have to offer nowadays. Their first game flOw seemed more like a relaxant, Flower expanded upon that relaxing mood and gave it an environmental twist, and now with Journey seems like they broke free out of that vision and set their sights on something even higher than our plane of existence. What exactly where they reaching out for? Who knows, but what this Journey has can penetrate the hearts of even the most jaded gamers out there. It’s an experience that only comes along a few times in a gamer’s life.
Which brings me back to my first point. This game not only challenges the view that video games are art, it outright proves it. Roger Ebert can make such an argument valid with a game like Call of Duty or even Halo, but how can he try to type a 50+ page thesis on how Journey is not art? Most people think his views fall right into the same box the general media (Fox News, ahem!) has been trying to encapsulate games into, though personally I think it’s extremely bigoted, pretentious, and biased. Why aren’t they arguing that about Michael Bay and Uwe Boll films? Besides, this experience is too unique for Ebert or anybody who’s ever argued otherwise about video games. It’s too much of an avant-garde expression for the straight eye. It can safely secure a special spot in the pantheon of “excellence in artistic integrity, innovation or otherwise.” It safely joins the likes of Braid, Flow, Flower, Ico, Katamari Damacy, Paper Mario, Okami, and Shadow of the Colossus; among others. Journey is a game that delivers a vision that elicits emotive sentiments, rather than entertainment.
- Delivers a unique and personal experience
- Beautiful art direction
- Brilliant musical score
- Mysterious yet fascinating online gameplay element
- Challenges the notions and beliefs of those questioning the artistry in the medium
- Length, as it is extremely short. Only takes around 2 ½ to 3 hours to complete
- Price tag can turn some individuals away