Game of the year: Journey

After long talks within the one-man-jury, the verdict is in! It was a close call between some of the titles, but then I though there should be some deciding factor that can let me choose this one and only. I decided that this factor should be the story and how it's delivered. The factor of narrative, what combines writing, gameplay, level design, music and all other elements of the game and how well they go together.

I believe really strongly that storytelling in games should be treated differently than in movies (as I already hinted in my narrative-related post). Therefore The last of us, even though it delivered an incredibly well-written, mature story, still would have been just as good as a long movie. Gameplay elements there are mostly to let the player shoot or punch something once in a while.

And the complete opposite of that would be Journey. Only one relevant word used during the entire game (not counting the completely unnecessary control hints) - the title. Whole story told with gameplay. And what a deep gameplay it is, using only the left stick and two buttons while giving a complete experience that lacks absolutely nothing. Everything that happens is beautifully intuitive. Whether you are walking, running, crawling, gliding, jumping or flying, you immediately feel like you were just born with the knowledge how to do that. Journey truly is a piece of art that you would not be able to channel through any other currently available medium.

It is impressive, how much has been packed into this short game. The whole experience lasts at most two hours and tells a deep tale of destiny, solitude, companionship, achieving goals, joy, friendship, cooperation, sorrow, mystery and reward. However, depending on you as a player and the variety of possible interpretations and experiences that can be linked to the story, the game can be singing a tale of many other things, like reaching for the stars, love, redemption, purification, sharing knowledge, communication and many, many more. It is simple, yet universal. Ascetic, yet broad. Truly incredible. If you are not afraid of spoilers, check out the http://journeystories.tumblr.com to see what a vast range of experiences people have while going through this linear game.

The whole game wouldn't be complete without the revolutionary art direction. The year was 2012. Eye-candies like Final Fantasy XIII-2, Mass Effect 3, The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition or Max Payne 3 were released with their thousands of polygons and megapixels of textures, yet... None of them had visuals that would be worthy of cleaning the desert dust off the Journey's main character's pointy legs. Rarely can you encounter in the gaming world art direction so perfectly consistent. Seemingly empty, one-colored spaces all perfectly serve their purpose. The main character has no face and no name. A perfect vessel to carry any player's soul in this beautiful adventure. 

Another incredible element of the game is its online co-op feature. In the course of the game you are able to encounter other players, all on their own journey. This is the crucial part. No matter who you encounter. Whether it will be a White Cape that will lead you or a guy you drag along or some independent dude that just goes wherever he pleases and disappears as suddenly as he appeared... You never have any doubt it is indeed your journey. And what's best, everyone you encounter, has the exact same feeling about their journey. Not to mention the fact that the only way you can communicate is by running, jumping and chirping a single sound. Again, not a single word is involved. You would be amazed how unnecessary the words in Journey are, even in communication with others. And after you meet a White Cape that shows you all the secrets of the game, you get this urge to get that cape too and help others get it. 

To put a cherry on top of this, I made an experiment. I have played the entire game in front of my father. He's in his 50's, has never played a game in his whole life. Never watched any game for more than 10 minutes. I even doubt he's ever watched a full football match. He sat through the whole thing. He understood the mechanics, the story and after more or less 20 years of telling me games are a waste of time, he agreed, that games can be a work of art. 

If you haven't been on your own Journey yet, go. If your excuse is that you don't have a PS3, buy one. I'll be waiting in the deserts in my sexy White Cloak :)

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