Game of the Year Nomination: Journey (PS3)

Journey is an amazing game by thatgamecompany, makers of other great PSN download titles like Flower and Flow, and I almost didn’t play it. Part of the reason I almost skipped over it was because of what it is: an art-house title that’s more an experiment in new forms of artistic expression than a ‘game’. Before I get people jumping down my throat, let me say that I’m actually a huge proponent of the whole ‘games as art’ thing, and ICO and Shadow of the Colossus are two of my favorite games ever. The reason I almost skipped over Journey, like I skipped over Flower, was simply this: I watched it being played by someone else first. My husband managed to play through both games before me, and I figured since the games were more art than anything else, and I technically already watched them unfold, I was good. There was one problem with this way of thinking, though; the visuals are only half of the equation with Journey.

That the gameplay is just as important to the story and experience of Journey was something I only found out after the fact, however. I’m ashamed to admit that the only reason I ended up playing Journey at all was I fell asleep halfway through my husband playing the game, and I wanted to see if there were any other cool-looking places he ended up going to. So I loaded up his clear file, complete with the fancy white robe that let me fly over the sand dunes forever, and prepared to disagree with him about how awesome the game was; I was sure it would be beautiful, but there was no way it could be as emotionally moving as he said, I thought. I was wrong.

For those unfamiliar with the game, Journey follows your, well… journey, as an un-named, gender neutral figure traveling through various expanses of the world, your single goal being to head towards a pillar of light on top of a mountain in the distance. The story (which is very minimilistic) is told by finding random pictographs on ruin walls, and is mostly left up to the intrepretation of the player. During your travels, you cross over endless shifting sands, advance through an underwater cavern, and traverse the icy cliff of a mountain, all alone. Well, not always alone; the game features a truly unique multi-player mode, which randomly pairs you up with a single other player. However, the game has no interface or menu, or any means of communicating beyond making little sing-songy noises. As such, sometimes you end up pairing with the sole, lone figure you spot in the distance, and sometimes you get seperated, or choose not to pair up at all. The lack of mic support or a keyboard prevents the unfortunate sort of events that can happen during other games’ online mode, and honestly, with how vast and lonely the world you wander through is, most people tend to be genuinely relieved to see another living soul, and will gravitate towards you and earnestly want to help.

I can’t really say much more about the game without spoiling it, and to be honest it’s not something that can really be described anyways. This game is something that’s meant to be experienced, not just played. The graphics and visuals are literally breath-taking, the musical score is stirring, and the end of the game made tears stream down my face. That’s not why I think Journey is the best game this year, if not one of the best games ever, though. I believe Journey is 2012’s Game of the Year because it made me so emotionally over-whelmed and uplifted that for the first time in my entire life, I cried not from sadness, but from pure joy.

 

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