The lights are on
Let me tell you about my new favorite game of this year. It may have passed through your gaming radar undetected because it is a PSN exclusive downloadable title from thatgamecompany, makers of previous PSN exclusives Flower and flOw (neither of which I have played). It would have gone right past me as well if not for a combination of stellar reviews and spring break. For $14.99, I decided to give Journey a chance, and I can only hope this review can convince you to do the same.
Spoilers ahead, you have been warned
In Journey, gameplay is of little importance, instead opting to give you an experience the likes of which no other game can offer. That being said, the game's controls are actually very good, and even better, very simple. The game uses twin stick controls for movement, and a single button to jump and glide. Getting your character moving is easy, and gliding around the games beautiful environments is a lot of fun. Your only other ability is calling, which allows you to interact with the environment. It is used to activate altars and interact with the games many cloth creatures. The game also features the option to use Sixaxis to control the camera, but I only found it to be a minor annoyance when I would accidentally tip my controller.
As I mentioned, the game's environments look wonderful. During your short adventure, you will visit deserts, temples, caves, and mountains. All of these environments are awesome, and I honestly couldn't pick a favorite one. Even on my second or third play through, I found myself taking time to admire the details in the environments, something I highly recommend doing.
One of the game's beautiful deserts
But gameplay and graphics aren't what Journey is about. The game is about the adventure, and all of the things you will experience along the way. The best thing I can compare Journey to is a poem. It is short, vague, and everyone is going to take something different from it. The game has no story, and all you are offered is a hint that you should walk toward a glowing mountain top. The game's cutscenes are equally ambiguous, each one showing you part of a large mural that seems to be about your journey. This style of story telling works great for the game, allowing you to interpret the quest on your own.
Perhaps Journey's greatest feature is it's multiplayer. If you are online while playing Journey, the game will seamlessly connect you to another player who is in the same area as you. You won't know their gamertag, or be able to communicate with them, but it works perfectly. Me and my companion had only just met, but we became fast friends. We waited for each other to progress, never going too far ahead, and showed each other secrets by calling out. I was worried when I lost sight of him, and sad when I saw him get hurt by the game's monsters. We were truly inseparable, and played the entire game together. If my companion had been one of my friends, I likely would have laughed at his misfortune over a headset. But instead I developed a strong emotional bond with a random stranger through what I believe to be the best multiplayer experience in gaming.
The most common complaint I've heard about Journey is it's short length, about two hours. In truth, this is the perfect length for the game. Two hours is about the length of a movie. Just long enough to be called a game, but short enough that most gamers will be willing to play it how it was meant to be played, in one unbroken session. You wouldn't watch half a movie, stop it and come back later would you? The length also guarantees that a companion you meet up with at the beginning of the game is likely to stay for it's entirety, allowing you to forge a strong bong like me and my random friend.
Despite it's simplicity, Journey actually has a surprising amount of content. Although the game is short and you can see most of it in one play through, there are plenty of reasons to go back. Hidden rooms and secret areas litter the games environments, and there are a few different collectibles to search for, one of which provides a power up upon collecting them all. These simple secrets have a retro feel, and reminded me of The Legend of Zelda's many secrets.
I don't know what else to say about Journey, so instead I will share my favorite moment from my time with the game. In the game's finale, which is a fast paced climb up the mountain where you are given near infinite glide, me and my partner were separated. I didn't notice at first, but as I neared the summit I looked around and realized he was gone. I flew in circles a few times looking around, and called out to him. After about a minute, I assumed I had lost him. I gloomily turned toward the summit and glided up to the top, trying to figure out how I had lost my companion. As I landed on the mountain top, I was stunned by what I saw. My partner was standing there. He had waited for me. He called out to me, and I called back. We both turned toward the mountain and approached the light. Together.