I can groove on a good arthouse game. I don’t mind short, experimental, or inscrutable. I’m the kind of guy who thought Bastion was deep, The Path was meaningful, and Gravity Bone was transcendent. I might even play Dear Esther one day. But Journey, the latest release from the creators of Flower at thatgamecompany? I’d rather stay home.

After the jump, indie cred revoked

Journey is nothing like Flower, which was a unique spry tale of wind, color, and redemption. Journey is yet another game in which you control a little dude who sometimes jumps. Most of the time, you just push your stick up and watch him move languidly and sometimes ponderously past scenery. It’s certainly a pretty game, if somewhat monochromatic. It imagines an exotic (i.e. Middle Eastern) culture of sand and cloth, except that these people have sharp points where their feet should be and they’re polytheists who believe in reincarnation.

The eponymous journey takes you over minor puzzles, underneath threats, though a limp-to-the-finish finale, and into a supposedly rapturous conclusion. Along the way, the story is illustrated with line drawings and presided over by a tall luminescent god creature who’s part of a committee of god creatures who show up at the end to, um…well, that’s for you to parse. The point seems to be some sort of circle of life affirmation about how the journey matters more than the destination, so you should probably play a second time.

It’s often picturesque and occasionally rousing. Your pilgrim on this brief hajj wears a burka, with a scarf thrown on for good measure. The scarf is actually Journey’s only claim to an interface for how it measures how much jump juice you have. You also have preternaturally wise alien/cat eyes. Think Jawas, but lithe. It’s great character design in search of a game. A couple of times, Journey made me want to play SSX. But it mostly reminded me of some of the dull and barely interactive bits of Uncharted 3. I think the lesson here is that deserts are often poorly suited to games without dune buggies.

There’s no challenge and no real gameplay, which isn’t necessarily a criticism. It’s sort of like Shadow of the Colossus without any colossi, or Ico without the little girl. It does have multiplayer, though. Other players run around in your game pulling your switches, mashing their circle buttons to activate the “hey, over here!” beacons, and basically going the same place you’re going without any meaningful way to interact with you unless you both know Morse code. How’s that for a metaphor for online gaming?

2 stars
Playstation 3

UPDATE: Read the official Journey review FAQ here!