Though I follow the video game industry and stay up to date on the culture, I no longer really play more than a handful of titles a year. Unless I feel something is a must-play, I likely won’t put be willing to put forth the time and money it would take to acquire and see to fruition, but this fortunately has the upside of investing every game I do buy with the sense that I’m embarking on something truly exciting, if only due to how selective I am when it comes to the medium as a whole.
The downloadable game Journey has been on my radar ever since I first saw a screenshot, so I’m very pleased that the timing just so happened to work out in such a way that my PS3 was on hand when it became available earlier today.
It’s a short little jaunt, so I’ve already played it to completion, and I’m happy to report that the first game I’ve seen fit to purchase this year was completely worth the hype, and I suspect will go down as a marker on the road towards realizing the immense potential that interactive media possesses.
The game opens on a vast and gorgeous cel-shaded desert, the immediate surroundings barren save for the thin-limbed, hooded figure you control. After wandering briefly through the dunes an enormous mountain appears in the distance, which you implicitly recognize is your ultimate destination. And onwards you go.
This is a game of exploration and discovery, with simple, satisfying mechanics enabling you to get from place to place. Everything hinges on the sights and sounds, both of which are exemplary. Each new vista could cause some shortness of breath, and a few had me absolutely slack-jawed.
The game’s crowning achievement, though, is how it treats co-op play. Shortly after starting I encountered another, identical traveler. This was another player, our games seamlessly connected online. I don’t know how often it works this well, but my fellow traveler and I very ably went through the rest of the game together, quickly developing what felt like a real bond only through gameplay, since there’s no way to communicate aside from a handy (and practical) chiming sound.
Though we didn’t actually need to interact to progress, we were companions all the same, never straying too far from each other, exploring the world and facing its (few but genuinely terrifying when encountered) dangers. When we reached our destination I wished the other player was physically standing next to me, because frankly I would have liked to give him or her a hug. It’s the best cooperative experience I’ve ever had playing a video game.
Journey doesn’t take much time at all, as it’s very deliberately meant to be played in one go, but that doesn’t make it any less worth anyone’s time or attention. This is a wonderful game, really showing what’s possible with perfectly integrated visual and mechanical game design. Mass Effect 3 may be what everyone is talking about, but frankly I suspect Journey has managed to do a lot more for the medium with a lot less. An utter triumph.