THERE IS A MOMENT, about an hour into Journey, where your character is sliding sideways through the sand-covered halls of what was once a majestic temple, crimson scarf flowing behind its head, as the setting sun peeks between gigantic columns to drench the entire scene in a shade of gold that transcends the color itself to become almost tangibly liquid.
Trust me, I know how that sounds, and I rarely wax that poetic in a game review—but when coming up with a one-word descriptor for developer thatgamecompany's latest, the only term that leaped to mind was "beautiful."
I don't mean that in a purely aesthetic sense either. There are a lot of games that look good thanks to powerful graphics engines and clever art direction, but Journey is, quite honestly, a work of art. As a result, it can't really be compared to other games. Yes, it's on the PlayStation 3, and you control the thing via the standard controller, but in every other aspect, Journey is a title to be experienced, not played.
Story-wise, Journey is simplistic: You're given no introduction to its sandy, alien world, nor any reason for why you should care for its nameless main character (a mute, supernaturally agile biped who looks like a Bedouin redux of Final Fantasy's Black Mage.) Normally this would be a huge problem, but Journey's greatest strength is its ability to tell a tale without actually using words. Through a combination of enticing aesthetics, engaging character animations, and a cast of secondary entities ranging from adorable dolphin-esque floating carpets to menacing rock dragons, Journey creates a level of emotional engagement that can only be compared to the best films, novels, and paintings.
Frankly, I don't care for the "are games art?" debate, but I do know that if the purpose of art is to move its audience emotionally, philosophically, or even spiritually, then Journey is undoubtedly art.