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One of Gaming’s Greatest Artistic Achievements

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    Rating: 4.5 – Outstanding

    One of Gaming’s Greatest Artistic Achievements

    This review was written on July 8, 2017 for version 1.01 of Journey

    You awake in the desert. You have no name. You try to speak, but you have no voice. All you have to identify by is your flowing, red robe and its ornate, golden embroidery. Far off in the distance is a mountain, its summit is brightly illuminated. Something deep within you commands you to travel to that mountain, as if it were your destiny. You stand up, and take the first steps on your long Journey. Along the way, you meet a friend; a fellow cloth-garbed being who’s just as reserved as you are. You’ll never know who they are. You’ll never communicate more than a few abstract, rhythmic syllables. You’ll never even know their name, but as the two of you forge onward, you’ll form a bond far more intimate than words can describe.

    Journey is a visual adventure game, devoid of combat, statistics, and most other traditional game mechanics. Players assume control of a nameless, reclusive being with only one task: reach the mountain in the distance. Everything else is kept purposefully ambiguous. There is no dialogue, there are no menus, and control tutorials are kept to the absolute minimal. Gameplay consists of walking, jumping, and gliding around beautiful, handcrafted 3D environments as you explore the world for secrets, agility upgrades, and ways to progress ever onwards towards your destination.

    The length of the game takes place across eight "stages," all of which feature varying degrees of puzzle solving and platforming, along with the more traditional "walking forward." None of the puzzles are particularly challenging and the platforming edges closer to the side of enjoyable rather than testing, lending to the conclusion that Journey is intended to be purely experiential. Still, this design choice leaves much to be wanted in the realm of engaging gameplay. If I were to single out the weakest aspect of the game, it would be the gameplay, but it feels fundamentally unfair to criticize mechanics built with the sole intent of delivering a powerful and evocative story. Rather, buyers should be made aware that Journey lives and dies on its power to tell a meaningful story.

    The game’s immensely abstract story is told through a series of voiceless cutscenes and wall glyphs, leading the player on an adventure that reveals itself along the way. Though Journey lacks any sort of deliberate exposition or story elements, it compensates with two distinct artistic layers. First, the visual work presented by the game’s expert use of colors and brilliant lighting is matched only by its masterful cinematography. Exploring the vibrant world on your own terms is a beautiful experience on its own, but Journey isn’t at all afraid to wrestle the camera away to put scripted scenes on full display. The visual layer is matched perfectly with its fantastically mesmerizing soundscape. Chief among this is the expertly executed score, which roars to match the game’s grandiose highs, yet knows when to simmer and let the visuals take center stage. Though the tone of the game is inherently somber, it wasn’t uncommon to find a smile plastered on my face as I soared across the gorgeous desert sands. Throughout the length of the game, the soundtrack effortlessly encapsulates every emotion and enhances each minute aspect of the game’s visuals.

    On the Journey, players have a chance to be randomly matched with another player that happens to be on the same leg of their adventure as you. This encounter is, by design, every bit as vague as the rest of the game. For the length of the Journey, neither yours nor your partner’s identity is revealed, yet you work together to forge onward towards your shared goal. They may play around with you, float and glide and draw in the sand, exchange a cacophony of chirps and chimes, or altogether leave you behind, but the authentic function of this uncanny partnership shouts over the silence of the game: you’re both on this Journey together. The true beauty of this feature comes when a new player – evidenced by a lack of embroidery on their read cloak – is paired with a more experienced player who has completed the Journey multiple times. In my first few playthroughs, it wasn’t uncommon at all to find players with beautiful, flowing robes actively helping me discover the many secrets of the world, and before I knew it, I was the one with the full robe helping a new player on their first Journey.

    Journey is, in the end, an engaging look into the nature of humanity itself. The meaning of the Journey, while remaining largely to the interpretation of each individual player, assumes an allegorical representation of the larger picture; of life and beyond. Gently exploring the serene landscape without gameplay interference is thought-provoking, meditative, and sometimes, even spiritual, and the sense of companionship derived from your silent partner evokes wonder and welcomes creativity. The stunningly beautiful vistas and expert use of colors and lighting set the tone in a way that completely eliminates the necessity of dialogue or explanation, which is perfectly complimented by a spectacular score that captures the extent of the game’s emotional breadth. The relatively simple platforming is a refreshing, relaxing break from other mechanic-heavy games, and as a result, Journey doesn’t offer any gameplay in the vein of "challenging" or "engaging." What it does offer – a beautiful, unforgettable Journey to be enjoyed alone or shared with a faceless, nameless friend – is something that shouldn’t be missed.

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