A pilgrimage like no other.
Placing in GOTY list: first, 2012|Watch a Cullen Plays LIVE live stream of Journey right now here
I have a confession to make. Last year, I made a huge mistake.
12 months ago, I gave The Walking Dead the nod over Journey as my 2012 Game of the Year. In hindsight, that was a huge mistake (Ed note – November 6, 2015 – since rectified!). That’s not to say The Walking Dead was not a fantastic game. It is actually bloody incredible, and the story of Lee and Clementine is absolutely something you should experience. Season 1 was incredible and the stopgap 400 Days was a pleasant stopgap. And already, Season 2 is off to a blinding start with its first episode released this week.
But here’s the thing, I more or less made a massive cardinal sin as a games journalist (I could say critic, but I’m not a critic most of the time) in picking The Walking Dead last year. After I finished the game, I was left in absolute awe of what I’d played with TWD, of which there’s nothing wrong with. But after catching up with it for a long stretch up to episode five rather than play each episode at release, I didn’t let it digest or think it over for no more than a few hours when, more or less, this is probably something you let sit for at least a day or two.
But even then, as much as I enjoyed and loved The Walking Dead, the profound experience I had when I played Journey for the first time last March lasted a lot longer in the memory – and continues to do so today – than playing The Walking Dead. The concept of the ‘journey’ thatgamecompany’s final game in its three-game deal with Sony takes you on is very much open to interpretation of the player. When I made the point of it being a pilgrimage on Twitter at release, a fellow peer DM’ed me – and I’m paraphrasing at this point – agreed, but seen it as a pilgrimage about the birth of life. I saw it as a pilgrimage about death and passing on to the other side.
I think that was eptimised by the one sole runthrough I did replaying the game when me and my partner for a good majority of the game passed through the summit of the mountain the game has you heading towards throughout. But I’ll come back to that final bit.
Journey’s secondary charm is who is with you on the trip, as you have a second player with you exploring the lush beautiful environments you pass through with your Jawa-like characters. Just like the interpretation of the game’s story is open to all, the way you communicate with the circle button in the world’s language – the only way to communicate to your fellow player rather than a headset throughout the game – is also open to interpretation from the player.
You can could be just generally chatting to each other. You could be joking in a weird way only you could interpret could do. Or as is the case a good majority of the time, the player could be calling out to you for help or calling you towards something. It was a unique way of doing an online infrastructure. There was no way to judge the other player you were hanging out with through their voice or ID. You couldn’t communicate through headset, just that circle button, and you wouldn’t know their name until the end of your playthrough.
As we progressed through our tale, my partner was pointing me towards the little glowing symbols you pick up throughout the game that eventually leads to potentially getting the white cloak you get if you get all of the symbols. But more than that, my partner showed me other things, the Flow easter egg being one example, that helped see the game in an entirely new way. But this was before we had gotten to the dreaded mountain, near the summit. As we got closer and closer to the top yet closer and closer to giving up, me and my partner throughout the playthrough kept communicating to each other despite it getting fainter and fainter with each passing step.
Then fainter even more.
And then, collapsing.
I’ve finished Journey before and I’ve played with co-op partners, but never have I reached the end of the game with a second player alongside me. And never did I have such a feeling of desperation as my partner and I lay there in the snow, even when you know what happens next.
Nor did I have the upmost feeling of joy (I couldn’t think of any other feeling, this is the closest I got to adequately describing it) as I rushed through the clouds and towards the top of the summit along with my partner. As we flew towards the top of the summit, I actually had a little cry as it happened. I’ve finished Journey before numerous times and I’ve welled up a bit each time, but when I made it to the summit with my partner, and subsequently to the other side, I actually had tears in my eyes by the end.
Because of it shortness, I was expecting to do at least three playthroughs of the game for this series – you can pretty much beat the game within an hour-and-a-half to two hours. In the end, though, all I needed was just that one playthrough. It isn’t the amount of times you play it, but its just finding that one thing that can lead to something aweinspiring, to that special experience.
Journey was already something incredible, in my eyes. But having now seen it in an entirely new way after this, it’s something more, something higher.
And that in itself is truly the biggest praise I can heap upon Journey and Thatgamecompany.
Thank you, Valentine_2013.
Highlight: Heading through to the other side with someone alongside me – an emotional moment that signifies that games are now finally, if not already, a legitimate art form and not just a niche form of entertainment.
More Game of the Generation articles will be arriving throughout the day up until 9pm GMT with the Game of the Generation. Find the full list so far here, with special and honourable mentions going live on the list along with the GOTG at 9pm.