What is a video game by definition? It's a question many gamers still ask even now, as the answer is not so simple to figure out. Some may see it as an escape form, others a challenge, and some a fusion of both. Some judge it like other games and view it as a form of art that tries to convey a message or emotion to the player. Some think it has to have platforming, shooting, role-playing elements, realistic effects, and the like. Once in a while, we get one of those rare titles that shows us how a game can feel more like an interactive experience than a play challenge and somehow, still be a "game" despite. My friends, Journey is one of those very games.
From thatgamecompany, the creators of other Playstation Network classics like Flow and Flower, I feel we finally have the group's true magnum opus. It's hard to explain quite what makes Journey so special without actually showing you. You play as a sort of shaman/monk-like character, trying to get to a destination on top of a mountain. You're not given much of any other explanation; you just know that there is something amazing for those who reach the top. Getting there is not so much a challenge, but rather an experience. There's no scores to beat, no deaths, and no fighting. You travel across plains ranging from a vast desert, to the top of a wintery mountain, and everything in-between.
Other than walking and sliding down hills of sand and snow, your character has two main abilities; jumping/gliding and an action button. How long you can continue to jump and glid for is dependent on how large your character's scarf is. The size of your scarf increases with each little symbol you find throughout your journey, which become harder and harder to find as your playthrough goes on. In order to refill this, you either need to find more creatures to touch, or another online player. The action command can have different functions depending on how you are using it. Sometimes you will encounter little floating creatures and such that you can use this button to communicate with, sometimes walls and hidden glyph images. The longer your hold the button the farther the communication will reach out. Your character even makes a small sound with this, though has no actual dialogue otherwise.
One big feature that separates this game from others is it's unique use of online play. Throughout the game, you will eventually come into contact with another player who will look like yourself. This is actually another person playing the game, and can be from pretty much anyplace. You can choose to help each other find secrets and progress, or you can go your separate ways and just do whatever you like. There is no other communication between the two players. You cannot talk to them. You can only walk with them and follow them or let them follow you if you choose. I've never seen such an unusual approach to online gaming, and I doubt I ever will again.
Journey is a game that showcases how sometimes a lack of spoken dialogue can still lead to some of the most emotional moments in gaming when you play all of your cards right. The combination of beautiful cel-shaded artwork and incredible soundtrack will leave you breathless, especially by the time you have reached the end. I easily felt more emotion for my character in this game than just about any Final Fantasy title on the market. Now THAT's saying something!
It's hard to give more specific thoughts without going into spoiler territory, so I'm going to say this instead: The best way to go into this game is to know as little about it as possible, other than what I've already mentioned here. Any further details would be spoiling the experience, and games like this simply need to be seen to be believed. This is one of the most unique experiences in gaming out there, and it's the type of game that everyone should give a try at least once. While short (it takes around 2 hours to complete a playthrough), you'll find yourself wanting to come back and see what else there is to find in this imaginative world; in fact the game encourages it with trophies focusing on replaying and finding new things again and again.
One more point I'll make is that if you haven't already downloaded this game, to go and get the Collector's Edition if you can. It includes thatgamecompany's previous entries, Flow and Flower, some extra mini-games developed by them, a free month of Playstation Plus, avatars and themes for all 3 games, and bonus features like an amazing documentary made by the development team. I suggest watching this after playing the game at least once or twice. It provides insight as to what the developers were trying to accomplish with this project, and you even get to know the people behind the game a little better; something we sadly don't see in many documentaries of this type.
To sum it all up, for a simplistic downloadable title, this game exceeds just about every expectation I could have had. This is one of those experiences you will never forget after playing through because it's simply that unique. If you're still on the fence about trying it at this point, I would say to simply give it a go, and finally see what all the broken online sales records are all about.
10 out of 10. All day. Every day.