Journey is one of the greatest gaming experiences of the current generation and something that no one who plays it will ever forget. You're dropped into the game as a cloaked figure with nothing to go on – the player isn't aware of their exact role or just what they're doing. Your only option is to run around the sand for a little while and follow the on-screen instructions to get around, then you reach your destination and the title pops up. The journey has begun, but with more questions than answers.
That sense of ambiguity never really leaves the game, although you do get slightly clearer goals as time goes on. Clad in a red cloak, you'll trek across the vast land before you from point A to B healing damaged or trapped tapestries to add to your own scarf, allowing you to fly around the stage in short bursts. Outside of greeting others and healing those tapestries with the O button, flying with X is the only other input you need to worry about. This simplistic setup may seem restrictive, but it isn't. With it, you're still able to fly, solve puzzles, and even evade large pseudo-dragons using careful stealth both underground and while being caked in an ever-increasing layer of snow.
Journey is an incredible experience and one that relies heavily on mood. There's a sense of struggle throughout the game, first to understand what's happening, and then just to get where you need to go. As the adventure wears on, you'll notice your character struggle to walk more – something made all the more apparent when you're struggling to get behind cover during windy portions of the game that either send large amounts of sand or snow your way to throw you off course.
Journey's soundtrack is one of the best elements of the overall game. It's certainly one that I can't wait to download, as the powerful violin work is some of the best I've heard in a game, and I can easily see myself listening to the soundtrack for a long time. Much like Shenmue's soundtrack, there's a timeless quality to every piece of music here and the entire game is full of stirring music that fits the game perfectly.
The music always adds to the mood, but not always in ways you would expect. Every time you hit O to heal or communicate, a light chime is let out – every other online player you encounter in the game has their own chime, and like the healing property, they vary in intensity depending on if the button is just pressed or held. You can create music with either your own chimes or combining them with others to add a sense of playfulness to the game. Moments like that stand out amid the majority of the experience, which goes from tranquil when you're just wandering around, to tense when you're evading an enemy, to relieved when you've done that, but are still a bit anxious because you don't know just what is lurking around the next corner.
That's one reason the online co-op feature is so welcome – when you're first going through, it does help to have someone there to either help guide you or aid in a puzzle. It reduces the concern of what to do next, but doesn't completely eliminate it because there isn't voice chat, so you're never told exactly what to do. The most help you'll get is someone getting one step ahead of you in a puzzle, allowing you to progress slightly faster, or showing you where to go next. They're both incredibly helpful, with the latter being a great time-saver given how large the world can be. A lot of games struggle to make co-op feel organic, but that isn't an issue here – it's integrated into the game seamlessly, and provides a different kind of rewarding experience for players.
Journey's graphics look stunning in still form, but look even better in motion. Only then can you see things like the aforementioned struggle against powerful wind, which shows more fatigue as time wears on, and be blown away by the gradual accumulation of the pearly white snow on your read cloak. It may sound odd, but one of the most amazing things in the game is seeing the cloak start off clean, and then slowly change as the stage wears on before finally becoming almost entirely enveloped in snow. You'll also be blown away by seeing sand shuffle beneath you, and have light shine off of it from either the moon or sun. The entire game has a very cinematic view, and when combined with the minimalistic plot, reminds me a bit of Ico or Shadow of the Colossus, only with better camera controls. The default camera is mostly very good, but can get hung up behind large things and cause your view to get obscured. It's not a huge problem, but is annoying when it crops up.
Other than that one issue, I really can't think of a flaw the game has. I can see some not liking it because it lacks dialogue or something like a licensed soundtrack, but as far as a game being an example of a vision coming to fruition and serving as a new textbook example for games being art, there aren't too many other games out there on par with Journey. The main game may only take two hours to beat, but it's an unforgettable experience. It's also well-worth replaying due to the sheer beauty of everything and the online co-op allowing for a completely different experience each time through. Anyone who loved Team Ico's games or thatgamecompany's other efforts like fl0w and Flower will love this – it's easily worth the $15 asking price.
This review is based on a redemption code for the PlayStation Network release of Journey provided by Sony Computer Entertainment.