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Old 06-09-2012, 08:32 PM   #1
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Please Rate This Review: Journey Second Opinion

Journey Review

Easy to Learn, Easy to Master

High – The brief moment of (unmerited) fear when first encountering an enemy.
Low – Realizing just how linear and scripted the game is.
WTF – Can I have those two hours of my life back?

After finishing Flower—the previous product from ThatGameCompany—I praised its audio-visual splendor but questioned its lack of meaningful choices. The company's latest venture, Journey, is much like its predecessor, but it is also minimalist to a fault. A certain degree of minimalism is good if it removes bloat and reduces a game to its fundamentals, giving it focus and increasing accessibility. In Journey, though, ThatGameCompany goes too far, stripping the product of the soul of what a game is. I found it exacerbating that a game whose name and imagery evoke exotic locales, epic hardships, and personal enlightenment, offers so little in the way of player agency.

As its name suggests, the goal of Journey is to travel from one location to another. At its mechanical core, then, the game is a level-based platformer. The player uses the left analog stick to guide a red-robed avatar across a seemingly vast expanse of desert and through the ruins of an ancient civilization. The ultimate goal, glimpsed throughout the game, is a shining light that beckons from the top of a mountain.

From the outset, I felt an invisible hand guiding me along a preset path. If I attempted to walk in any direction other than toward the next landmark on the horizon, the wind pushed me roughly back from whence I came. If I tried to fall off a side ledge or down a water shaft, there was always a safety net that funneled me back to the main path with no resistance.

The player has the ability to fly for a limited time by storing energy in her scarf, which acts as a power meter. By finding glowing runes scattered around different areas, she can increase the scarf's length, and hence the amount of air time possible. At certain points she will encounter enemies that can rip the end off of the scarf with a successful attack, thereby reducing total air time. If online, the player may join with a fellow traveler. One companion can tap a button to sing a short note that fills up the other's scarf when she is near, and the other can return the favor.

On paper these mechanics sound intriguing, but in practice they are extremely bare bones and have little to no effect on Journey's difficulty. At one point I intentionally allowed my scarf to be reduced to a stub, but I never felt as though that inhibited me in any way. I realized that my actions did not matter much to the outcome of the game, and as a result I was not compelled to seek out power-ups or to bother waiting around for other players.

If the depth of a game is measured by the distance between its best and worst players, then Journey is one of the shallowest games ever made. Every player can make steady progress and complete the game in roughly the same amount of time. There is precious little skill involved and virtually no strategy to employ. It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that you can complete the game by simply holding forward on the left analog stick. This is the exact opposite of how the game is advertised on its web site ("your passage will not be an easy one"). Games, by definition, must have a goal or win condition. If a game is so easy that it is impossible to lose, then winning quickly loses its meaning.

Journey has received much praise and acclaim, but I failed to see anything innovative about it. It is a linear, scripted cinematic experience that costs $15 and lasts about 2 hours. If that sounds more like a movie than a game to you, I don't think you'll find much consolation in the fact that you have to hold down the play button to make it proceed. The best I can say is that—like Flower—it is visually pleasing and the narrative is abstract enough for each player to impart her own personal interpretation. However, there are far more engaging and interesting platformers out there with substantially more content (starting with the original Super Mario Brothers), and there are far better opportunities for online camaraderie, where one can build stronger and longer-lasting relationships with real people (for example, World of Warcraft).

Some may think that I am being overly harsh; that Journey is "an experience, not a game"; that I am "missing the point"; or that I am "not judging it by its own merits" (whatever that means). My response is the following: How can an experience emotionally affect me if I can cruise through it on auto-pilot? How do my actions matter when I know they are being guided by the invisible strings of a puppeteer? How can I feel any sense of purpose with so little demanded of me? How can I form meaningful bonds with other people if we do not actually need each other to progress? These are serious and legitimate questions that need to be answered if one expects to find significant merit in Journey.

Rating: 3 out of 10

Disclosures: This game was obtained via paid download and reviewed on the PS3. Approximately 2 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode (completed 1 time).

Last edited by Odofakyodo; 06-11-2012 at 10:37 AM.
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