On second thought...
A single review can only say so much. Condensing your emotional response to a game is a difficult process. In a sense, reviewers are translators -- you take one human feature (emotion) and you transform that into another (speech).
Reviews, even with the vast lot of them, can never cover all of the public's general thoughts on a video game, no matter how brilliant they are (looking at you, beloved Polygon team!). That's why I've created this thread for everyone to post their own reviews of the latest games. I realize there may have been threads just like this one in the past, and if that is the case, I'll end this one, but otherwise I'd just love to see the entire Polygon community converge onto the same familiar point we all know and love: gaming.
I'll start by copy and pasting my review of my current GOTY, Journey, even if it is rather old. But nevertheless, I'm proud of this particular analysis, and I encourage others to show some expression. What will be interesting is when we get a review that goes against the norm. I loved Journey, for example, but these are second thoughts, and whether they be positive or negative, have no fear--just get posting.
Journey is the most appropriately titled video game in recent memory. The very name of the game is so essential to the experience, I think the impact of the game itself would be lessened without its title. “Journey”, as a word, is now more meaningful than its ever been before thanks to thatgamecompany’s mesmerizing compliment to our yearning for a great tale.
You play as the survivor (or one of the survivors, I’ll get back to that) of a once-great civilization that has since fallen from its days of glory. Wading through the thick gloss of sand, you silently examine the remains of your culture, whether that be the haunting protrusions of gravestones in said sand, or the empty remnants of a smoothly-constructed temple. You are greeted with multiple visions of what appears to be your master. This figure could be living, could be dead — it’s never certain, and thatgamecompany is intent on keeping it that way. You proceed through areas that hold host to many memories and emotions, as you’re always moving forward. To what? Your goal is efficiently laid-out for you in the first marvelous 20 seconds of the game: The mountain.
But what is the mountain, and what is its significance? We’re invited to interpret this in whatever way we please, because part of Journey’s brilliance is the heavy reliance on imagery over direct explanation, music over dialogue. thatgamecompany is an enormous believer in the idea that their stories should be felt, not told.
Journey isn’t a game so easily described. The gameplay consists of puzzles and platforming, but it’s never trying to occupy preconceived genres like so many other games try to. Journey’s first and foremost purpose is to give off a feeling of some kind or another within the format that is most successful. A few areas of the game could be described as environmental puzzles as you energize a few pieces of magical cloth so you can carry on to the next message from your master. Others could be pictured as having (mild) stealth gameplay, in which you avoid the sight of the very creatures that exterminated your kind. All of these signature sequences are guided by a constant involvement from you. thatgamecompany satisfied me by blending cutscene and actual gameplay so seamlessly, and players are sure to be delighted by the amount of toying and experimentation they’re allowed to do. These moments are especially joyous given that the controls here are phenomenal—thatgamecompany has been made famous for their thorough understanding on the importance of controls, and how to connect “control” to “video” and “sound” to make for a game that you can literally feel. The smoothness of the controls coupled with the gentleness of the graphical style instills a dream-like experience.
Arguably the most gorgeous level of all gorgeous levels in Journey is one where you ease down the sand with this swift elegance (your character, and all of your people for that matter, are animated to appear as thin, light, nimble beings) and are then gifted with this delicious shot as you see the setting sun blaze off the sides of “the mountain”, giving off a warm, majestic glow on the grains of sand whizzing below your feet.
It’s all a part of the journey.
While its use has been marred by time, I’d like to use the word “redefine” as respectfully as possible: Journey immediately puts good use to the “silent protagonist” archetype, but thatgamecompany redefines the idea so beautifully with co-op (I hesitate to say “mode”). Journey works its networking witchery behind the scenes, never taking a step back to pull you out of the fiction. Random players online will fade into your journey with not a single word’s notice. You’re led on to think that this mysterious stranger is just like yourself, and through every movement, quirk, and “shout”—a vocal note from your character designed to vaguely, but more effectively, communicate to your fellow man—you’re connecting with one another, but through basic human feelings rather than expressionless commands. The uncannily-intriguing connection between you and and this other lone figure is, in my mind, the best co-op I’ve ever had the pleasure of playing. As any kind of journey initiates a vast array of emotions, it was flat-out magical to share these emotions with someone else—someone with a similar goal, but nevertheless an individual you can appreciate partaking in an adventure with. If these aren’t relationships within video games, than I don’t know what is. Upon completing my journey with these people, though, “friendships” is a term I’m more prone to use.
Now, I’d like to discuss the mythology of the world at hand. I couldn’t help but smirk at the delicacy that’s dealt with Journey’s “universe”. Notice that the culture and some of the history acts as a backdrop to the events on-screen, in contrast to “Hey, guys! Let us explain EVERYTHING, because we know all about you’re love for explanations”. Please. Journey prizes its own mystery. Even by the very end (my oh my, the end), there are feasts of questions whose answers are left to our imagination. The tonality benefits greatly from this aura of mysteriousness, and not only does the story support this welcome cloudiness, but every single aspect of design does, as well.
Journey is flooded with these instances of thatgamecompany’s thoughtfulness. With Journey, I had a journey. This is, no doubt in my mind, the best of compliments I can give to this nebula of eagerness to tell a grand story. The 2-3 hours required to finish this is what some would label as an “issue”. I can’t wrap my mind around such complaints, as the game’s deliberate purpose is strengthened by its concise length. Journey succeeded in ways so above and beyond the limited size of my television screen, you’ll be amazed by the way it truly moves you. But, hey, what else was to be expected? It’s all a part of the journey, after all.