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Plugged In

Artful ‘Journey’ stuns critics

Plugged In

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Journey (Sony)

Are video games art? Despite the Supreme Court ruling that games deserve First Amendment protection, the debate quietly continues.

A new downloadable PS3 game, however, might silence some doubters.

Created by acclaimed independent developer thatgamecompany (fl0w, Flower), Journey is an exploratory adventure that sees players wandering across a massive desert as they slowly make their way to a beacon of light atop a faraway mountain. They'll come across other online players along the way, but in what's considered a significant breach of gamer protocol, no talking is allowed, forcing players to find other ways to communicate with one another.

Crazy? Like a fox. Critics are floored by the minimalist effort, which releases Tuesday with a huge 92 Metacritic rating thanks to over a dozen perfect scores.

"Journey is, for lack of a better word, awesome," raves Joystiq's Jordan Mallory in a 5/5 review. "It has not only raised the bar for video games as a storytelling medium and a form of artistic expression, but it has also expanded the definition of the term "multiplayer" and changed my perception of what a cooperative gaming experience can be." So yeah, he kind of likes it.

As does Russ Frushtick of Vox Games, who gives it a 10/10 thanks to its incredible environments.

"That world is awe-inspiring," he writes. "Any given moment could pass for a static work of art." He even likens the experience to the work of another company who knows a thing or two about creating memorable, lasting adventures.

"I felt like I was in control of a Pixar movie in Journey," Frushtick says. "Like the first half of WALL-E, awash in a near-silent mix of emotions, in a mysterious world that revealed only a small sliver of its past to me."

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High praise, but hardly unique. Though Game Informer backs off perfection with a mere 9/10 score, writer Matt Miller also compares Journey to other kinds of entertainment experiences that aren't solely about winning and losing.

"Give Journey the same attention you might bring to a musical concert, a well-directed film, or a long-awaited book, and its rewards are substantial," adding that certain moments in the game "gave me goosebumps, and those moments have remained on my mind for weeks afterward."

It's a real looker, too, with nearly every publication simply gushing over the game's glorious graphics. "The most beautiful game of its time," marvels IGN, although they also point out that this Journey isn't without a stumble.

"While more curious explorers will delight in secret glyphs and clever Trophies, completing Journey only requires a few hours, if that, " writes reviewer Ryan Clements in a 9/10 piece. "And Journey's deliberate, melancholic pace might tire those of you accustomed to fast and frantic challenges."  Wired agrees, calling the game's brevity "a shame" in an otherwise glowing 9/10.

Short but sweet, then? Though it represents gaming's less traveled road, Journey has managed to tie big-budget blockbuster Mass Effect 3 as the top-rated game of the year thus far. That's quite the feat for a game built by a team of twelve. Our advice: take the first step and download it.

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