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Ben Hornsby Ben Hornsby
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'Play Journey': Meet stranger: cry?'

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'Journey' is easy to be a jerk about. It's practically got the word 'art' sticky-noted onto its forehead. Maybe it looks better then a painting, if you don't look at paintings. Like all 'art games,' it does not focus on either substantial game mechanics or on a story; it's about an aesthetic (like all 'art games,' a pretty somber one) and it's about getting the 'player' to 'feel' 'something.' You can tell the developers actually used those words in interviews. It's that kind of game.

I'm not going to be a jerk, though, because 'Journey' is worth talking about, mostly for its really fascinating co-op ideas. Maybe you could argue for some value in it as a simple aural and visual piece, if you're that kind of guy, but without this multiplayer I don't see what more you'd get from playing it on a PS3 than from watching somebody else play it on YouTube.

Your journey is spent wandering through a desert and a cave, headed for some snow-capped mountain in the distance. Each area is a gentle bubble, wide open and populated by a handful of simple, ambiguous objects. There are no 'puzzles' per se, just a couple of structures, ideas or characters floating around for you to play with until you see how to move on - how to continue the journey. A really wonderful Cracker Jack cluster of ideas appears near the end, attaining that mythic balance between aural, visual and mechanical feedback to hit what feel, maybe, like a couple pretty genuine emotional notes.

They probably only felt genuine, though, because I had another player by my side when it was all going down. The idea is that your journey will have you touch other players on the way, and you'll spend a leg of your trek together. I spent my first session playing the first two-thirds of the game, and I was alone the whole time. When I fired my PS3 back up to finish 'Journey,' I noticed a sort of white glow on the edge of my screen within a few seconds. I turned and there was another guy coming up over the snow-dune to reach me.

We kind of just stood in front of each other for a moment. I hit circle, to make my dude send a little ping into the air. This other guy, wherever he was (is?) in the world, pinged me back. We started trudging through the snow. He jumped a lot, and I mostly stayed steady on the ground. Maybe that's why he didn't notice the stone dragon thing from the game's previous chapter come flying into view around the mountain in the distance. I took cover in some segment of pipe stuck in the ground and started pinging furiously. It's hard to say if he knew what was going on, but he came running toward me. The dragon spotted him, swooped in, and tore part of him away.

He couldn't jump so well after that. It was alright, though; we didn't have a lot of jumping to do. Actually, we had a lot of desperate trudging into the face of a blizzard until we were probably going to die to do. And then we - well. Maybe you ought to see for yourself, sometime.

There's really not a lot more to say about 'Journey.' It's a really fascinating little thing and it's beautifully put together. As long as you can get a PS3 online, it will probably never age. I love that it is so short, and I'd love to see the 20-version of the same idea, too. I hate that there are inexplicable power-up trinkets hidden in a few places; it's obnoxious and it feels like it pulls against everything else the game does so well. Oh well. You can still have a weird time looking for HDTVs hidden in deserts with strangers, and that's more than I can say for most games.

three stars (out of four)

Ben Hornsby is drinking a Moxie and thinking of you, dude who walked through the snow with him


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