Like no video game sojourn before it
There’s a moment midway through Journey, when the otherwise rigid perspective shifts and you’re suddenly thrust into a freefall scenario off the edge of a mountain. It’s almost frightening at first, the way you’re disorientingly dropped into this beautifully rendered abyss, but that’s just the thing—it’s so beautiful, as if you’re falling through a heavenly cloud layer and certainly on the way to some wonderful ending. This is one of the more thrilling moments I’ve experienced in a game, and it’s a terrific contrast to what’s otherwise a serene, quiet adventure—a journey, both metaphorically and as literal as the best games in the genre get.
So much of what occurs in Journey is nothing more than for the joy of the moment—the exhilaration of floating down a sand slide, the delight of launching over an ancient city structure to the crumbling building below, the awe of rounding a mountain pass and cutting into the teeth of a raging snowstorm. There’s no award or pickup to be found in Journey; there’s no traditional conflict or even a familiar level-design structure. Journey creates a place to explore and touch, and it’s the artistic touches that create a spiritual quality.
I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a spiritual grounding to the experience that I’ve never felt from a game before—at least not to this foundational degree. Perhaps I’m overreaching? Play it, and decide for yourself what Jenova Chen and his team were expressing as they created Journey.
The game is mighty abstract, but it’s through this abstraction that it finds it greatest power. I feel very strongly that game designers don’t latch on to enough mystery and narrative obliqueness; Journey is out there; its expression is magnificently visual and deceptively interactive.
Games are at their best when I’m playing them and authoring my experience as I go along. If I had to describe Journey for its most game-y achievements, you could call it a successful platformer—most of the traditional engagement involves jumping on things, gliding to the next ledge, absorbing jump energy to make the proper distance across a chasm. But I now know what director Jenova Chen was lamenting to me a while back, when he kept reading previews straining to detail what you do in Journey. He wanted to know what we felt. I felt a sense of wonder, peace, and even a little awe at times. If a spiritual experience sounds odd to you, perhaps I could call it meditative. These aren’t words that come often in a video game.
SUMMARY: The game is mighty abstract, but it’s through this abstraction that it finds it greatest power.
- THE GOOD: Takes risks in expression and narrative that is a joy to play with.
- THE BAD: A spiritual experience in gaming is rare and might rub folks the wrong way if not coming into this with an open mind.
- THE UGLY: I hope you like orange and brown.