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Review: Mesmerizing 'Journey' needs something more

"Journey" is beautifully rendered, with Zen-like landscapes that will leave you breathless, reviewer Larry Frum says.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • In "Journey," players are dropped into a wasteland and have to find out what happened
  • The environments are stunning and almost Zen-like, according to reviewer Larry Frum
  • The one drawback, he says, is that there is no sense of achievement or competition
  • "Journey" is available through the PlayStation Network as an online download only

(CNN) -- "Journey" could be one of the most polarizing games out this year.

This digital download for the PlayStation 3 is a beautifully rendered and wonderfully scored adventure through a world that is mysterious and vague. But it is hard even to call it a game because the action takes place along a predetermined path and has no real consequences of failure.

It begins with the player's character being dropped into a wasteland of sand and ruin, and it is his task to find out what happened and what his lot in life is.

The environments are stunning. The sand flows like water, and the player literally skis down dunes, spraying red granules in his wake. Broken buildings jut out of the sand, and huge columns rise above, beckoning the player to find a way to the top.

Players will also find some water areas to explore before their adventures culminate with a snowy climb to a mountaintop. The entire world has a fluidity and calmness that makes it relaxing.

The artistry is magnificently done, with just the right amount of gravitas. It would be almost Zen-like if the landscape weren't the result of some historic catastrophe.

Your character is tasked to discover what happened to the civilization that was here before the great cleansing. Ribbons act as keys to unlock walkways: Touch one and it glows, making bridges appear. Or find a glowing light that acts as a beacon to show you bits of history and lead you along the way.

There are locations that allow the character to commune with the spirits of the world and unravel the mystery of the disaster. The ghosts of the past also show you that you are now part of their ever-expanding story.

There are some dangers present in the game, but they are only minor inconveniences. Your character cannot die, cannot attack and cannot speak. He can jump and call out with his special identifying note. His only hope is to press on to his goal.

And here is where I think the title breaks down as a game. There is no sense of achievement or competition. The character walks, slides or flies along a set path of ribbons and lights to the ultimate conclusion. Can you ignore them? Sure, but then the game doesn't progress, and you are left wandering in the same area until you trigger the next scene.

The much-vaunted multiplayer mode allows others online to join your game without prompting. But they serve no real purpose other than to be a sidekick for your journey. Interaction takes place through the single note each character can sing, but what does it all mean?

I'm not asking the title to be a first-person shooter or a real-time strategy game. But a game that is short (each play-through lasted about 90 minutes) and leaves me shaking my head in confusion is not a game.

"Journey" could best be described as art, an experiment or entertainment. The environments and artistic renderings will leave you breathless. The story, on a very high level, is one of ruin and rebirth.

But as a game, it is sorely lacking in any meaningful interactivity or consequences. It is a game on a rail -- one that just passes you by.

"Journey" is available through the PlayStation Network as an online download only. The game will be available Tuesday in North America, Wednesday in Europe and Thursday in Japan. It is rated E for Everyone. This review was done using a provided download code for the PlayStation 3 and played multiple times.

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