Regarding what many consider to be his finest work, author John Steinbeck declared, "I think everything else I have written has been, in a sense, practice for this". This statement also holds true for thatgamecompany, makers of Cloud, a little-known PC game, and two downloadable PS3 games, Flow and Flower. From the beginning, TGC's main goal has been to create emotional experiences, akin to what one might find in a film, book, or song. While their first two titles were average, it allowed the folks at TGC to experiment, and practice for upcoming titles. Flower, a substantial improvement from Flow, was an excellent game, and hinted at what was to come. Journey is to TGC what "East of Eden" is to Steinbeck: it's easily their most emotionally involved game, and a milestone in the advancement of video games.

Journey begins by placing you in control of a mysterious red figure, in a sprawling desert, with a colossal mountain looming in the background. Much like TGC's other titles, Journey forgoes commands or prompts, and instead uses the environment to them subtly push players in the right direction. For example, the game never outright tells you to head for the mountain, but with a simple camera focus it's implied. This gives the player the feeling that they are actually making the journey on their own accord, and does an admirable job of hiding the game's linear design. This feeling of psuedo-empowerment bleeds directly into the story, explained throughout your journey via hieroglyphics and a number of silent encounters with another mysterious figure, which never gives concrete answers or fully explains anything, allowing for each player to have their own unique interpretation of the game. Though, upon reflection, that never felt like the story, and it really isn't; the real story is forged by you and your companion, as you make the daunting and arduous trek to the mountain's peak, and is unique for every player.

Over the duration of Journey, the figure will be required to traverse a variety of gorgeous areas, each calling forth a distinct emotion. Color is a major factor in level design: tense moments are flooded with dark blues and black, and it's most euphoric ones are splashed with clean, smooth blues and reds, with crisp, calming whites thrown in for good measure. The game is an aesthetic masterpiece, featuring a variety of environments, ranging from massive, seemingly endless deserts, to tense, dungeon-like corridors, to warm, hazy, peaceful ruins. The emotions packed within these areas are enhanced by it's powerful, impressive score. Much like how the serene, relaxing music in Flower helped establish it's emotion, Journey's soundtrack does the same, and adapts seamlessly with each level change. 

The most intriguing addition in Journey is it's online component, and is easily the most important aspect of the game. What it does is allow you to discover another anonymous traveler, and presents you with the choice to either journey together, or continue on alone. While traveling alone permeates a deep sense of loneliness, journeying with another creates the polar opposite feeling. While playing with another, you gain the ability to recharge your companion's scarf by huddling close to them or by singing near them, allowing you to rely upon their help, while when playing alone the only way to recharge your scarf is to find flying cloth pieces. This not only establishes the game's underlying message, but also contributes to the bond with your nameless ally; during the game's more tense and emotionally strenuous moments I often discovered myself clung to him for safety, or gliding and singing in the more light-hearted events to express my joy. And in the few hours I was with him, I had honestly developed a deep sense of camaraderie and affection for him.

Journey is a landmark achievement in gaming, merely because the fact that it's more than a game; as cliche as it sounds, it really is an experience. Every aspect of the game is expertly executed to complement and work seamlessly with each other, creating what might be the most emotionally impacting game to date. Whether you agree or disagree with the argument that games can be art, it's hard to imagine calling Journey anything but. It transcends what games have been, and instead focuses on what games can, and should be. An honest-to-goodness masterpiece.

If this review looks familiar, it's because I posted it on GameFAQs a few months ago. I've made a few minor changes to it and posted it here.