Journey was initially released way back in 2012 on the PS3 and was a game I always looked at from a far with mixture of curiosity and bemusement.
At the time it was universally praised and lauded as one of the best examples of video games as an art form. Looking at the game from a distance (not yet owning the means to play it) I couldn’t quite see what the big deal was but was very eager to try the game myself. Even from a distance, looking at videos and reading the reviews it was hard to miss the fact that Journey could be something special.
Fast forward five years and this weekend I found myself unable to deny the impulse to buy Journey on my girlfriend’s PS4 for a mere $5.
Last night in the early morning hours I fired up Journey during my weekly Sunday night overnight stream. As I started it up I remembered the high praise it had received but none of the details surrounding the game. Through the passage of time my brain had been scrubbed clean of expectations beyond “people loved this game a few years ago”.
In the opening moments of the game I was admittedly perplexed. The cold open on a beautifully rendered dessert and the lone cloaked figure left me more disinterested than in awe. I couldn’t resist snark-laden comments about the main character being a Jawa or saying “well that’s some beautiful sand” (as legit a compli-sult as I’ve ever used). The dessert itself was honestly beautifully rendered and the physics of the world and character moment were excellent but the utter lack of context left me more annoyed than intrigued.
But I didn’t give into that initial reaction and plunged forward into the game, desperate to find the game that so many have praised in a way I haven’t since Metal Gear Solid 5. Unlike MGS5, which I never grew to feel anything but an annoyance tinged hatred for even after 40+ hours, Journey began to work its magic on me a short ways in. As I steadily picked up on the visual and aural language of the game I slowly became enthralled by the game and the unanswered questions it left me with.
What was the story of this solitary figure on this dessert pilgrimage?
Why was that far off mountain important?
What is awaiting me when I get there?
Within 35 minutes I encountered the first real feelings of awe as my unnamed pilgrim slid down a massive sand dune with bizarre cloth creatures soaring through the sky ahead of me. Something about the sequence, be it the music, the pacing, the look the creatures spoke to me and the game clicked in my head. My disinterest faded as I said something akin to “okay I’m starting to fall in love with this game now” while sliding down a 2nd sand dune with the setting sun splashing a golden hue across the sand.
Journey had its hooks in me and hard.
I remained captivated through the remaining hour or so of the game. Frequently finding myself with my mouth gaping at the beautiful things unfolding in front of me, forgetting to speak for minutes at a time to my stream audience.
By the time I reached the snowy peaks and was trudging through the snow with a companion, fighting the debilitating cold and hiding from the massive beast terrorizing us from the sky above us I was a full convert. Journey is an amazing work of art and utterly deserving of the praise it has received over the years.
Even the way it handles something as commonplace as multiplayer functionality novel and adds a layer to the experience. As you trek through the world towards your mountain top destination you will encounter other pilgrims on the same journey. They are completely unobtrusive to the experience, popping in or leaving without fanfare and without identifying marks telling you their identity hovering over their heads. They are just another faceless and nameless travelers like yourself and that is an absolutely perfect way to handle such a mechanic. In fact the only sign that they are actually other players is the list of names that pops up post credits telling you the names of those you met on your journey.
Final Verdict: 10 out of 10. Unless I’m mistaken this is the first time I’ve ever felt a game deserved a perfect score and if there was ever a game deserving of my first perfect 10 out of 10, Journey is it.
I know it is hardly a revelation how great a game Journey is, it being nearly 5 years old at this point and all the praise it received back in its day but I still want to shout from the rooftops how perfect this game was. I don’t often describe video game experiences as “moving” or having been “moved” by them but Journey is the sort of game that solidifies the argument that video games can be and should sometimes be considered art. I didn’t expect Journey to elicit the emotional response in me that it did and for that alone it deserves the highest of marks.