Journey PS3 review
Not a gun, grenade or fast car in sight. Not a character with a name, nor an explanation of where you are or what’s going on. Not even a single line of dialogue. But then that’s what Thatgamecompany does, as evidenced by its previous PS3 titles Flow and Flower.
Some think it’s pretentious nonsense. Well, if so, then what the dev team has created here is one of the greatest pieces of pretentious nonsense that gaming’s seen. Or, more accurately, a gorgeous, breathtaking experience perfectly summarised by the game’s title.
Let’s avoid well-worn discussions about whether or not games are art – despite Journey being about as relevant to the debate as you can get – and instead focus on what it is and what it does.
What it is, on the surface, is simple: the story of a hooded figure making its way across a landscape towards a distant mountain. The travels are over a desert, through caverns and up that imposing precipice, all containing the semi-submerged ruins of a long-lost civilisation.
All of this is navigated using just the left stick to move, X to jump – enabled by pieces of cloth picked up along the way, and as you collect more and upgrade, you can glide over huge distances – and the circle button to ‘shout’. Shouting – sending out a glimmering pulse of energy – activates certain monuments and interacts with the game’s version of NPCs; essentially creatures comprised of the same cloth. They help you and guide you – and I promise you’ve never felt so attached to swatches of material.
What it also is, is staggeringly beautiful. Sand moves fluently under your character’s nimble feet, sunlight streams in and sets environments ablaze, and glorious horizons seem to stretch out forever. The movement – clearly honed during the development of Flower – is fantastic, and the slick animations and sense of momentum mean that navigation is constantly satisfying.
Its brilliance also comes down to the fact that the symbolism is left open to interpretation. Described as an ‘interactive parable’, the details of your story and of how the civilisation you’re exploring fell are explained only though mosaics.
Wordless and cryptic, theories to explain Journey will be as numerous as people who play the game, but a definitive answer is unimportant. If you buy into the game you’ll decide for yourself what it represents to you, and that’s the interpretation that matters.
This is not a difficult game – enemies are almost non-existent and puzzles are telegraphed so you always know where to go – nor is it a long one, with the whole thing clocking in at around two hours.
It’s also a game that absolutely won’t be for everyone. But it’s one of the most perfect gaming experiences I can remember, created with care, packed with creativity, and topped with an irresistible ambiguity that makes every person’s Journey unique.
It’s one of the few games you’ll genuinely reflect on after completion, and an object lesson in how less can be more when it comes to crafting narrative and eliciting investment. This is a game about which I would change nothing, and I can’t remember having said that too many times before.