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"Journey" sends players on a strange trip

By Brian Lynch
On April 11, 2012

  • Ancient and decaying stone architecture are just one of the sights worth seeing in Journey.

For several years now, many people have debated on whether or not video games can be considered works of art. Some feel that the interactive nature of games prevents it from being art, which is largely something that an audience must experience but not control. Others see games as a new medium in which artists can express their creativity on a digital canvas. While both sides of the debate make valid arguments, it is hard to look at a game such as the PS3 exclusive "Journey" without considering it a work of art.

The plot details of "Journey" are as sparse and barren as its desert setting. Players take control of a nameless and voiceless shrouded humanoid, whose sole purpose is to reach a mountain range across a vast and desolate desert. There are no lengthy opening cutscenes, nor are there any extended monologues to explain the story to players. When the game begins, there is only the player and an endless expanse of sand as far as the eye can see.

Interactions with the environment are equally minimalistic. Players can move the character with the left stick, and Sixaxis controller gestures manipulate the camera. As the game progresses, players discover the ability to emit a chime by pressing the circle button. The chime produces different reactions, allowing the character to trigger responses in the environment in order to advance. These reactions range from converting windswept tapestries into bridges to unlocking ancient doorways. Before long, players discover they are able to absorb strands of loose cloth which give the ability to glide into the air with the press of the X button. This ability is limited to a handful of uses, and glowing glyphs on the character's scarf indicate whether or not players are able to use it.

That, in a nutshell, is the entire game. Players make their way through the sandy wasteland in order to get to a mountain. There are no guns, no enemies and no edgy dialogue. "Journey" is a game that strips away virtually all traditional elements of a video game, leaving players with an experience that feels both familiar and totally alien at the same time.

The world of "Journey" contains some of the most hauntingly beautiful scenery ever depicted in a video game. The desert sand glitters like gold beneath the scorching sun, and vibrant tapestries flutter against the unforgiving wind. Long-forgotten stone architecture juts up from the sand, revealing what appears to be a civilization lost to the elements. Further on, innumerable rows of stone markers, likely gravestones, litter the landscape. Eventually, the game moves to more interior locations and the locales become more abstract and foreign, yet the devastation this civilization suffered remains clear. None of this information is told to the players, nor does it play into the story in any way. But from these simple visual cues, "Journey" manages to show a story better than most games can tell.

The game introduces the concept of online cooperative play in an equally discreet way. If players enable the option, a second player can enter the game via the PlayStation Network. This second player is completely anonymous, and there is no way for either person to communicate in-game. Instead, the additional person acts as a silent companion on your journey. If the other person has already finished the game they may act as a guide, helping to lead the way forward. Otherwise, both players must explore the mysteries of the world and find their way together. Regardless of the practical usefulness, having a second player creates an atmosphere of comfort in "Journey." The world is so utterly desolate that it is surprising how reassuring finding another living being is, even without the means to communicate with them.

At $15, many may balk "Journey," especially considering the game only takes around two to four hours to complete. What it lacks in content and quantity, however, it more than makes up for in atmosphere and overall experience. And if the experience is what defines something as a work of art, then there is no denying "Journey's" artistic merits.

"Journey," available for PS3 via the PlayStation Store, receives 5 out of 5 stars.

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