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Hands-on at CES with the PSN title Journey

Every now and then a game comes along that you can look at and make a solid argument that it is art. Team Ico’s games are an obvious example of this, as they use the medium of video games in a way that is unique and original, as well as compelling and thought provoking. If you can get a game to generate an honest emotional response (other than the occasional surge of anger and/or frustration), then you are doing something right. And Journey is definitely doing something right.

Earlier today I got the chance to go hands-on with Journey at CES. And while I typically don’t play many downloadable games, I am eagerly looking forward to getting my hands on this title. 

The game comes to us from Thatgamecompany, the developers that brought us Flow and Flowers, two titles that earned huge amounts of praise for their original take on gaming. Like the developer’s previous games, Journey is chalk full of originality, and features a world that is as fascinating as it is desolate.

Journey begins in a desert that hides the ruins of a long forgotten civilization. There is no dialog, and your character is actually a being made of cloth. The goal is to reach a distant mountain with a glowing source of light, and to get there you will need to collect scraps of cloth to replenish your powers. There is no central narrative, but there are story aspects throughout. Rather than just spelling it all out though, the game will force you to explore to pick up the plot pieces. 

One of the more interesting and unique things about Journey is that it is a single player game, but can be played with a second player—but you won’t know who you are playing with or be able to communicate with them. The game prohibits voice chat and texting, and Thatgamecompany hasn’t decided if you will even be able to identify the gamer at any point. As you play your own campaign, you will occasionally run into other characters that you can team up with to gain a bit of extra abilities, but once they separate from you, they will disappear.

The game is melancholy, and the feeling of isolation is palpable. But thanks to some excellent platforming elements, and incredible artwork, the game is also fairly beautiful.

The development team consists of 12 members that have been working on Journey for over three years. There is nothing quite like it out there, and it plays on primal fears of solitude and curiosity as you explore the empty world. The primary goal is also to scale the unscalable mountain and brave the lost world, all of which are also traditional elements that play on your emotions without needing a single piece of dialog. It is storytelling at its finest.

The platforming plays well, and the cloth-based character has abilities that make it a blast to play.  Floating is a huge element, and when you do team up with another person, both players will receive temporary power boosts.  It makes it worth the team-up, but beyond just the gameplay benefits, after playing in an environment without seeing a soul, suddenly running into another figure is like a blast of clod air during the summer. 

No release date has been given yet, but it will be out later this year as a PlayStation Network exclusive.  And when it does, you can expect it to be an early contender for indie game of the year.  

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