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‘Journey’ Game Review for PlayStation 3

thatgamingcompany.com

‘Journey’ is a downloadable game, so it doesn’t have a box or manual. But if it did, all it would say is “Don’t stop believin’.”

Your self-confidence is really all you’ve got going for you here. The confounding yet fascinating game isn’t big on holding your hand or coaching you about what to do or how to do it. Its idea of a tutorial is to plunge you face-first into a sand dune and let you wander around for 10 minutes until you happen to stroll up a hill it secretly wants you to climb, but doesn’t bother to tell you.

Due out March 13, ‘Journey’ is about wandering around in the desert, with nothing to kill, nothing chasing you and nothing to do other than feel like a small town girl livin’ in a lonely world. Eventually, if you get to the right place, you’ll kick up some rune-like figures that tell you to push a certain controller button to make something happen. The game treats you something like an indifferent strip club patron. As the unappreciated, attention-hungry stripper you’ve got no real idea what the game wants from you, so you dance around until you get a tip or two. Forget about making it rain. You’re elated just to get a few sprinkles.

Stick with ‘Journey,’ though, and it finds a way to stick with you. You’re find yourself parking your car when an idea about some new way to tackle an obtuse puzzle hits you, and you’re scribbling it down so you can try it as soon as you get home. By giving you so little to work with, and presenting you with such tough problems — How do I open that gate? What will it take to get across that broken bridge? — it gets you to obsess over it.

This devious concoction comes from the demented geniuses at Thatgamecompany. The ultra-minimalist developer was also responsible for ‘Flow,’ which is sort of an amoeba simulator in which you swim around and eat stuff, as well as ‘Flower,’ in which you play as the wind and blow flower petals and other stuff around to turn ugly farmland pretty. Its games are so weird that if they announced its next project was ‘Sharpen,’ in which you played as the inner gears of a pencil sharpener, we’d get as excited as when we found out that you could play as the little mushroom guy in ‘Super Mario Bros. 2.’

We love just about everything about the game, especially how much we hate it. Online walk-throughs will inevitably ruin things, but it’s exhilarating to muddle through a seemingly impossible task, only to stumble upon the right answer and hail yourself a genius. It juggles deliberate pacing, balls-crushing difficulty and shocking success with the deftness of Portal 2. We weren’t able to try much of Journey’s multiplayer, but we’re intrigued with the way it pairs you with random strangers, refusing to provide you a way to communicate with them. You’re just stuck together, left to either screw with each other or team up. Or, better yet, pretend like you’re going to help them, only to screw them over at the end.

Journey won’t be everyone’s Red Bull and vodka, but it’s got a way of wearing you down and keeping you up well past your bedtime. You’ll just want to hold on to the feelin’.

Rating: 9/10

Joruney ($15) was developed by thatgamecompany, published by Sony and is available on the PlayStation 3. The publisher provided a copy of the game for review.

Read Phil Villarreal’s blog at becauseitoldyouso.com and follow him on Twitter:@philvillarreal

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