- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 27, 2012

From the developers who asked gamers to take time to smell the Flower is another artistic therapy session tied to the mysteries of an ancient fallen civilization.

Through the third-person adventure Journey (Sony Computer Entertainment and thatgamecompany, reviewed for PlayStation 3, rated E for everyone, $14.99), a player takes control of a robed wanderer with a vague mission to travel toward a bright light at the top of an enormous mountain.

Across expansive landscapes mixing the vastness of Arrakis and desolation of Tatooine and Hoth, this being, who resembles a Bene Gesserit Jawa (how’s that for “Dune” and “Star Wars” references?), must traverse the beauty of sands, snow and caverns on his never fully defined pilgrimage.

If you want to call it a pilgrimage, that is. Or is it an archaeological investigation? A spiritual awakening? A digital art experiment?

It’s up to the player to control his fate as roaming and exploring are paramount to satisfaction while curiosity dominates through some stunning platforming moments.

Early in the action, the granules of desert sand often ebb and flow like a massive ocean that can slow down or transport the traveler (sometimes like a snow boarder) as he explores ancient ruins, shrines, markers and places to emblazon hieroglyphics that reveal clues to a once-mighty empire.

Besides walking long distances to areas worth checking out (use the Sixaxis motion-sensing controller to look around), a player uses tattered living cloth and tapestries found scattered about. The cloth can empower the figure as he glides, flies and floats, even getting help from an infrequent magic carpet ride — if he catches a collection of rags at the right moment.

Occasionally, another robed figure will appear in a player’s space — and here’s where Journey makes a wonderful evolution. This new wanderer is actually an online player, on the same mission and can become your partner.

Communicating via musical notes emitted depending on the length of time a controller button is pressed (they’re also used to awaken the tattered cloth), gamers create a new form of language that “Close Encounters” extraterrestrials would admire.

Each player can help the other spin in air and each can oddly encourage the other’s success. At one point, I fell off the side of a ruin and my partner jumped beside me so I would not get lost. It led us to a new place to climb and we both tonally emoted in unison at finding this new course.

When under siege by a creature under some horrendous weather conditions, my online companion stayed close by in a shelter (unable to help) but patiently waited for me to rejoin him.

While I normally seem to be mired in gaming arenas loaded with pipsqueak, profanity-spewing punks shooting one another, this level of interaction gave me a renewed faith in the online community.

Besides the companionship, Austin Wintory’s musical score acts as another friend who often guides and complements much of the visual complexity presented with dramatic flare.

All of the positives above bundled with the final moments leading to the conclusion of this masterpiece are more than satisfying. It amazingly drew out a roller-coaster ride of emotional responses that I have rarely exhibited when playing any standard video game.

Determined players will finish this entire quest within the amount of time it would take to watch an extended edition of a blockbuster movie. That, however, is not really the function here as embracing the experience for its beauty and dynamics far outweighs any pedestrian objectives.

If I’m sounding a bit cagy in the detail, it’s because I refuse to spoil any part of this gem. Nor am I comfortable reviewing a piece of fine art as I would a standard first-person shooter. This beauty is in the eye of the controller.

So I highly recommend plunking down 15 bucks for the right to participate in this stunning “art” project. It’s a Journey well worth taking.

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