A “Journey” Without Death

I’ve heard mountains of praise for the recently released PSN exclusive, “Journey.” Gamers and critics alike are claiming it to be an “experience” unlike any other in the medium. Its lackadaisical nature and user friendliness have allowed many to see everything the title has to offer. Another game comes to my mind immediately.

2006 saw the release of the sci-fi shooter, “Prey,” developed by Human Head Studios. The game is incredibly generic, save for one mechanic. The main catch to the title, though, is that death is an after-thought. For as hard as any one moment can be, you will never be able to perish or have to restart anything.

In addition to that, Ubisoft rebooted Prince of Persia in 2008 with a self-titled game, “Prince of Persia.” The same thing as “Prey,” as hard as any one moment can be the game immediately brings you back when you fail. You can even careen off a chasm and not be punished, other than waiting a few seconds for an unskippable cutscene.

So my question is, “What makes “Journey” so special”? I have yet to actually experience the game, but I have a hard time believing that the lack of death or game over is what people are so excited about. But if that’s not the case, then are they honestly going for pure atmosphere?

I’m not one to put restrictions on what a game should or should not be. If you can derive enjoyment from a title, then it obviously succeeds as a piece of entertainment. Every critical analysis I’ve read of “Journey,” though, claims that the game is a pure expedition through serenity. Well, why isn’t “Prey?”

You cannot fail at “Prey.” I suppose if you stopped trying, the game would never conclude, but nothing will ever hinder your progress. When you die, you get transported to a spirit realm to regain health and are then put back into the same exact spot where you collapsed. The bosses don’t even regenerate health.

At least in “Prince of Persia,” failure at battles would cause the enemies to regain some of their stamina. Attrition was the goal with that title and it suffered for it. At the same time, though, why is “Prince of Persia” not the same as “Journey?”

I find it hard to take game criticism seriously when games like “Journey” are receiving universal praise, but something like “Prey” and “Prince of Persia” are bashed for the same exact reasons.

But this is pretty, right?!

“Journey” doesn’t even take place in an area that is new to gaming. Modern shooters have been exploring the Middle-East for almost a decade now. Sand dunes and temples are staples in a lot of RPGs. Hell; the main character from “Journey” kind of resembles a Helghast soldier from “Killzone.” It doesn’t look to be terribly original in any regard.

My only point of comparison would be Thatgamecompany’s own “fl0w,” a game which I have played. I understand there is no true purpose to the title and that it merely exists as a means of entertainment, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to claim it as a classic. It exists for people to relax and kick back.

And maybe that is just the point of “Journey.” Maybe I shouldn’t be trying to compare it to “Prey” or “Prince of Persia.” “Journey” isn’t on PSN so that it can tell a specific tale or challenge anyone to their fullest degree. “Journey” isn’t demanding and it simply exists for people to relax.

“Prey” and “Prince of Persia,” though, do exist for the purposes of challenge. Both games were ambitious in their foundations to break the game-over screens of the old-school era, but failed to capitalize on their own premises. While their one central idea is founded in reason and logic, their game mechanics lacked any innovation or surprise or challenge.

“Journey,” though, brings people together anonymously and makes them feel like friends. Aside from the Souls games, I can’t think of any other title that accomplishes such a feat.

You’re my best friend!

Still, I can’t shake that people are being unfairly warm to “Journey.” I cannot claim it’s a bad game, but I would like to hear more claims about why it is so great. Simply being an “experience” doesn’t cut it for me. If anyone could enlighten me, I would appreciate it.