Reviews: Journey

A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

But can it put to pen a thousand poems? Can it tell you a thousand tales? Can it sing you a thousand sonnets? Can it capture a new beauty in a thousand different ways over the course of a thousand different viewings?

I might have stretched that comparison on a bit, I have to admit, but this is one of the few games that ever made me feel a sense of awe and wonder. It's one of the few games that ever gave me a new perspective into the beauty of the world and everything in it. Playing this game made me laugh and it made me cry. This is not a game you play for achievements or for gratification. This is a game that can only be experienced. It's a game where the goal isn't anywhere near as important as the Journey that takes you there.

A long forgotten but entirely new sense of awe

In fact, the almost fear like awe parts of Journey inspired in me might very well rank as the most powerful moments of my entire life. Whether that is a compliment to Journey or a rather sad reflection of my life is another story. All I know for sure is, watching the breath-taking scenery and soaking in the wonderful ambient sounds and music evoked some of the most powerful emotions in me to date. In an almost ironic way, those magical landscapes in Journey were more larger than life than reality's own icons. I've seen the Grand Canyon, Mount Everest, hiked down the dormant volcanoes and and across icebergs in Iceland, and while all of them were amazing and breathtaking, I feel like the impact of Journey was more profound and solid.

And perhaps more importantly, Journey may very well be the only game that brought me so close to tears through sheer awe. I've had tearjerkers, and diabolus ex machinas galore in other games that try to evoke the same emotion, but with Journey there's no need. There's simply this magical, heartbreakingly beautiful world that you slowly unravel that seems sometimes like it's painfully reigniting some foreign, nostalgic sense of wonder and elegance in your heart.

If all this seems like it's waxing poetic, well blame that on the limitations of the English language and my puny imagination. Journey is, in short, an experience like no other. And for me personally, one that will likely never be topped, forgotten, and recreated. It's a magical experience and only exists in that moment. Every single new playthrough will be different. I will never hear the exact same combination of music (triggered by your current actions in game), or again feel that first stupidly childish sense of glee when my online companion and I simultaneously discovered the same mural, instantly starting to frantically chirp at each other to get the others attention, or the sense of dread walking through the tunnels with the guardians, or the profound sense of fear and companionship as we trekked together up the final snowy mountain.

Playing Journey alone is also an experience, one that reinforces that sense of solitude and highlights the sheer vastness and grandeur of this long dead civilization and how tiny you seem in comparison.

There's a lot of things Journey is. But it'll be different for each person, as it should be.

Three very different experiences

...made in a single linear, 2-3 hours long game. That's not something I see often.

At the time of this writing, I have completed Journey four times. My second playthrough was underwhelming because I wasn't sure what I wanted it to be like. But the other three all stood out.

  • My first playthrough was full of uncertainty and exploration. I was still figuring out the mechanics of this game and was mostly The Load to my companions—though none of them was much better off. The defining property of this first experience was the thrill of not knowing what comes next.
  • My third playthrough was a solo achievement trip, where I specifically hunted for the Transcendence and the White Robe. It was very different from the first two because I was alone the whole time. The Tunnels take on a whole new level of scary without a companion.
  • My fourth playthrough was online again, with both me and my companion wearing White Robes. Once again, it was different from everything before, not just because of the new amazing feeling of freedom, but also because we both knew the levels by heart already and stuck together until the end.

The final level reflected my three experiences in an interesting way. The first time around, I lost track of my companion and was too busy looking for them to appreciate the scenery. The third time, I was on my own, so I spent time to take it all in. But it was the fourth time, as my companion and I raced each other to the summit, that I fully comprehended how huge the positive emotional charge of that one level is. It took me four tries to see it but I don't regret a single minute spent on getting there.

I think what's so precious about Journey is that its creators managed to imbue it with a magic that transforms it into something very different yet instantly recognizable every time you embark on it. That's not something I see often.