After nearly 2 years of hearing about how wonderful it is and seeing the numerous Game of the Year awards that it won, I finally fired up “Journey”, a PS3-exclusive game. For those not in the know, it’s a very different kind of game. There’s no shooting or attacking, because there’s no enemies. There’s no text or dialog. You’re given no instruction on what you are supposed to do. Even when the game needs to tell you what to do, it shows you a picture of a controller and very subtlety highlights the button you should press. Blink, and you miss it.
You play alone, except when you are randomly hooked up with someone else online. You don’t know who they are and you can’t communicate with them, yet you can find a way to work together. When you finish, you see a list of profile IDs so you only then know who you bumped into. The game is only 90 minutes long, so it is assumed you’ll finish it in one sitting and see all the IDS of those you played with. You can’t choose who you play with, so it’s unlikely that you’ll ever play with your best friend. You are expected to come back from time to time to give it another whirl, just for the experience.
It really is an interesting way to play a game. You only use three inputs on your controller. You move with the left stick, you jump with X and you do actions (charge up, mostly) with O. And that’s it. It’s very minimalist. It’s very quiet. It’s very beautiful.
It’s very not my thing.
I don’t need to shooting and explosions and constant action. I love a puzzle game. But “Journey” is barely a puzzle game. For most of the levels, there’s only one way you can possibly go. You can explore around and try to find shiny little cube things, but when it’s time to go on, there’s almost always only one way to go. There’s long sequences when I was just holding up on my directional stick and moving forward for what felt like minutes on end, even if it was only about 20 or 30 seconds. I like the idea of not being given any direction and having to figure it out completely on my own, but at times, it was so easy, I couldn’t help but think to myself, “Can this possible be right? What am I doing? I’m just walking to the… oh, that’s the end of the level.” It wasn’t challenging at all, despite the complete lack of direction.
The random hookup with a helping player was a great idea, except it doesn’t always work. According to the developer, the choice to not tell you who you are with and not give you any way to communicate with them was to “forge an emotional connection between them and the anonymous players they meet along the way.” The only emotion I felt with the guy I played with was disgust. He had clearly played the games many times before and ran ahead of me, doing what needed to be done and leaving nothing for me to do. For 15 minutes or so, I just ran behind him, doing nothing other than keeping up. A game I was already bored with somehow found a way to bore me even more. When I finished and the list of players I encountered displayed on the screen, the one I played with the most was named “superVagtastic420”. Yeah, feels about right.
The game received many Game of the Year awards and a ton of wonderful critical praise. Across the board, it received review scores of 9s and 10s. Unfortunately, I think “Journey” is highly overrated. Don’t get me wrong, I love when a developer goes in a different direction and tries something ambitious and new. But, I think “Journey” isn’t done, yet. It feels incomplete, like it’s still baking. It feels like a tech demo of a great game that is still to come. I think reviewers are so desperate for a new experience that they graded “Journey” high based on it’s potential, not on what it actually is, which is kind of ironic, because usually it’s the other way around, with games getting graded low because they don’t reach their potential or preconceived expectations.
There may also have been a lot of hype that raised my expectations up to a level that “Journey” could never reach. That has happened to me with games, movies, books, albums, and TV shows in the past. Still, I stand by my thoughts that “Journey” is not quite done, yet. I’ll happily play “Journey 2”, if it is ever made, and see if it takes that next step. If it does, I’m on board. If it doesn’t, then maybe “Journey” isn’t one I should be taking.