Why Journey is the best survival horror game in recent memory
I could tell you how Journey is one of the best downloadable games of 2012, but you already know that. You're aware of just how great the game is, how unique it is within the art game genre, and how beautiful the experience of it really is. But if you look past the game's beautiful design and exhilarating world, you've got easily the best survival horror game to come along in the last few years.
With its lack of blood, gore, and jump scares, it would be hard to imagine Journey as a survival horror game, but even with all of its beauty and wonder, the game's world has its share of truly horrific elements. The first is the lonely feeling you get upon starting your trek through the desert. You don't know any specifics, and all you're aware of is the fact that you're in the desert, your destination appears to be a faraway mountain, and you're all by yourself.
The whole idea of being in a vast desert by yourself is terrifying, especially when you think about the massive stretches of land you need to travel. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, you encounter a stranger. Is this person going to help you? Does he have a similar goal? Will he simply leave you behind as he continues his quest? Or will he do something even worse than ditching you entirely: will he be a total troll and just guide you to random spots just to mess with you, knowing very well that you're depending on his help?
It's scary to be on your own, but it's even scarier to think what a stranger may do if you cross paths with him in Journey. You don't know if you can really trust this individual, and the fact that communication is very limited and relegated to chirps and chimes makes everything that much scarier. Human contact and communication are beautiful things, but when that contact is shrouded in mystery and that communication is practically foreign code, things can get eerily cryptic.
Loneliness is a major part of any successful survival horror game, and Journey manages to exude that feeling in its players all too often. Even if you do find a helpful companion who guides you to secrets and really takes on this wondrous trip by your side, what happens if one of you runs off and gets lost? It's at that moment when you're back to feeling completely alone, hoping that you'll find that kind stranger but expecting not to. And when you find out that you two have been separated for good, you almost fear for the other person.
I'm going to share a moment that I experienced during my second play-through of Journey. This moment was equal parts amazing and horrifying. I met another adventurer — someone who had clearly played the game multiple times before — and I found this person to be quite amicable and helpful. He guided me to secrets I had never discovered on my own. He led me to areas with scarf upgrades and always waited for me to collect them before moving on. This was a true companion in the world of Journey.
We eventually came across the area with the giant flying beast. In my first play-through, I was the victim of the beast's attack. This time around, I relied on my partner's guidance. This individual knew the best hiding places, and he had memorized the monster's flight patterns — I felt safe with this person. As we raced toward the goal while the monster faced the opposite direction, I noticed that the massive beast turned around. If we continued in that direction, one of us would surely be caught. My companion continued to race toward the goal...
As the music grew more ominous, the beast drew closer to us, and his line of sight approached my fellow adventurer and I. Before I could start looking for a hiding place, the monster's searchlight turned red. He had spotted my partner. I genuinely feared for this person, and I was terrified at the fact that I was about to witness him getting tossed around by the intimidating beast.
My partner kept sliding down the sand hill, and the monster got closer. I followed behind my ally, and I didn't want to think about what was going to happen next. Did this person even care that he was going to get hurled across the level by the flying creature and lose his scarf? I braced myself for what was about to happen, and at that moment — when that monstrous colossus was supposed to attack — my companion continued to slide down the dune toward the end of the stage. I followed behind, and we made it unscathed.
The sequences where you come across the flying creatures are easily two of the scarier parts in Journey, but that one moment where I was traveling alongside my newfound "friend" was one of the scariest in my entire time playing the game. I was absolutely terrified at what was going to happen to him, because I knew he was going to be demolished by the flying monster. I knew he was going to lose his scarf, and I knew I would have to look for his beaten-down body. But that never happened.
Those few minutes of suspense in Journey were some of the scariest I've had with any game in recent memory. It was true survival horror, because my partner and I were trying to survive, and while I now see that he was probably calm the entire time, I feared for my character's life in a way that I haven't in a long time. No, Journey may not be the typical representation of a survival horror game, but its constant focus on loneliness, mystery, the unknown, trust, and ultimately, life and death, makes it a wonderfully horrifying experience like no other.