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Why Journey is one of the greatest games ever made

And as high as those highs, so too are the lows. Such as near the end, where you, and perhaps a partner, face your final challenge of ascending a sterile white, frozen steppe. Visibility is naught. The wind is deafening. Each step becomes more laborious than the last. Your partner falls and maybe you trudge on a bit farther, without hope or cause, until inevitably, you fall also.

As with life, the experience is made better by the presence of an other. You can, of course, play alone, disconnecting your console as a hermit wanders off into the forest, but those online will involuntarily find themselves matched from time to time with a partner. Despite having no real way of knowing who your partner is or communicating with that person, these interactions often lead to the strongest emotional responses.

You can work with this nameless, voiceless other, using only your rudimentary communication mechanisms--jumping, chirping--to solve a puzzle and build a bridge. And then, take in the fact that the connection between the two of you is incredibly tenuous, when once the bridge is built, that individual is nowhere to be found. You cross the bridge alone and reach your goal. You feel the loss, and, unbidden, memories of your last failed relationship spring to the fore. 

Journey wears allegory on its sleeve and manages, through its presentation and gameplay, to effectively capture an entire swath of human emotion. Eerily so. The game is a charlatan in the way it's able to conjure up within players memories specific to the individual. And it then uses these heavily loaded memories to amplify the emotional impact of the game. The effects cover the spectrum of unmitigated joy to abject devastation.

In this way, Journey will make you vulnerable. If you find yourself crying while playing this game, you wouldn't be the first, and you wouldn't be the first to not initially understand why. It presents situations in which your true feelings are thrown into relief. It's a mirror, a self-discovery tool, effective to a degree that nothing else that's come before has been able to achieve. Play it, and know thyself.

"Why _____ is one of the greatest games ever made" is a weekly feature that goes through GamesRadar's list of the 100 best games of all time and highlights different titles, explaining why they're on the list, what makes them so amazing, and why we love them so much.

11 comments

  • arianabiscuit - December 22, 2012 10:59 a.m.

    TOM MAGRINO! This was beautifully written. I just played and finished Journey today, and I have to say it was one of the most incredible experiences I've ever had. Playing alongside a stranger - feeling this overwhelming sense of love for them... it's hard to describe. You did it awesomely though! Nicely done, yo :D
  • ninjaemperor - December 16, 2012 9:34 p.m.

    This is seriously, in my opinion, in the top three games ever made. Absolutely beautiful, genius, and amazing, I cannot say enough good things about this game. I bought it almost the minute it came out, played through it twice in two days, and then sat and watched while one of my best friends played it. I'm planning to run through it again over the break. Absolutely my game of the year.
  • Unoriginal - December 13, 2012 noon

    I will never forget when I first finished Journey and found out my beloved co-op partners name. Bring-The-Riot and DatAssparagus. Not displaying GamerTags was a really good decision on thatgamecompanies part.
  • d21lewis - December 13, 2012 10:01 a.m.

    What's wrong with me? I like games like Ico, Braid, Zelda, etc. but this game bored me to tears. I played it early on, got about two hours in, turned it off, and never touched it again. What am I not getting?
  • nik-williams - December 13, 2012 5:20 a.m.

    IMHO Journey extended what ICO created by taking Yorda and replacing her with a real person. ICO (IMHO) and SOTC were the first games that grabbed me emotionally, actually made me care to a degree. Can't really see the reference to love & failed relationships, I didn't get that. Journey's brilliant combination of visuals & music with the increasing futility of the journey itself had me on a see-saw of joy & melancholy in the broadest senses. I've no idea how the memory of a failed relationship could be invoked :D
  • YourWorstEnemyGaming - December 12, 2012 4:43 p.m.

    Journey isn't so much a game as it is an experience, but it was definitely a great one. I remember the first time I met someone else in the desert, and then, after completing a few levels with them, they disappeared. I spent quite some time searching for them, and when I couldn't...the disappointment and loneliness was certainly present. In regards to the game's length, I think it was purposefully short so that it would be feasible for someone to complete in one go, without taking any breaks. But maybe that's just me.
  • KnowYourPokemon - December 12, 2012 2:23 p.m.

    After reading this I now have the determination that once my final exam is done tomorrow I'm coming home and replaying this. Favourite game of 2012 by a long shot.
  • FordFiesta - December 12, 2012 2:17 p.m.

    Despite what games win GOTY this year, when we look back at the greatest games of all times list and especially 2012, it will be journey that will stand the test of time.
  • BladedFalcon - December 12, 2012 1:44 p.m.

    Huh... I'm very surprised that it was Magrino, of all people, that wrote this article XD
  • GR_SophiaTong - December 12, 2012 4:27 p.m.

    I know, right?! jk. He LOVES Journey.
  • BladedFalcon - December 12, 2012 5:44 p.m.

    Yes, i can tell he loves it, that's why it's surprising, considering he has firmly established himself the resident "grumpy pants" in RadioRadar XD

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