Video Game Review: “Journey”


I am walking across the desert in a red robe. Beneath my feet, sand sparkles and ripples, as if it were lovely waves of windswept sea. I don’t have the slightest idea what waits ahead.

Occasionally, I come across a pretty rug stuck in the sand. I touch it, and it mystically floats above my head, like a ribbon in the sky, guiding me forward to the next mysterious rug.

Am I lost? No.

I am simply walking toward the top of a mountain. What awaits me there? Heaven? People? Peril? Who knows?

This is “Journey,” a shockingly beautiful little game. It came out last year. I missed it in 2012. But since January is a quiet month for new games, I have finally caught up to this sleeper of a critic’s darling.

There are no guns, no deaths, no traditional missions, and hardly any points of action.

The game in a nutshell: I must find those magic carpets, then proceed forward, and walk beyond secret passageways in the mountains.

“Journey” is short and wordless. I finished it in two hours. But it is stunning for the imagery (directed by Jenova Chen); the orchestral music score (by Austin Wintory); and an abiding spiritual depth.

Yes, I said, “spiritual depth.”

The meditative aura of “Journey” is profound. Its minimalist sumptuousness (walking to beautiful music) frees my mind to contemplate whatever spiritual touchstone I prefer.

In other words, I am engaged in the game enough that it feels like a game, and yet its artful ease implores me to think about life. You remember what thinking is. It is what we did before mobile phones and Twitter.

So for me, “Journey’s” sights and sounds puts my headspace in the same place it travels when I practice yoga and consider the world through the lens of Buddhism.

But that’s me. If you play “Journey,” I imagine you could go on your own constructive meditative journey.

Or maybe you would think about literature. I did, because the game’s almost-aimless wandering lives up to its title.

And as every lit teacher knows, “Life is a journey, not a destination,” as Ralph Waldo Emerson said.

But pick your own literary-journey reference.

There’s J.R.R. Tolkien: “Not all those who wander are lost.”

And Lao Tzu: “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”

And Paulo Coelho: “We are travelers on a cosmic journey, stardust, swirling and dancing in the eddies and whirlpools of infinity. … This is a precious moment.”

“Journey” is evocative in its grand smallness. It is an adventure for men, women, boys, girls, the fearless and the weak of heart. It is a spectacular artwork painted on a humble canvas of the unknown. It is the journey of becoming. Of becoming what? It doesn’t matter.

Often in our travels, the sun shines brightly, causing a glare. We ask ourselves: When is a glare not a glare? When it is a vision.

(“Journey Collector’s Edition” by Sony retails for $30 for PS 3 - Plays very engrossing. Looks terrific. Easy. Rated “E.” Four out of four stars.)

Doug Elfman is an entertainment writer for the Las Vegas Review-Journal.