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March 15, 2012
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By Matthew Scott Hunter

‘Journey’

(E)

*****


Sony Computer Entertainment

PlayStation Network

For years, whenever the artistic merits of video games have been questioned, those who’ve argued in defense of interactive entertainment have inevitably cited “Shadow of the Colossus.” Soon to be mentioned in equal measure amidst such disputes is “Journey,” a game that shares more than a few qualities in common with Team Ico’s masterpiece. You play a lone figure, plopped down in the middle of a desolate landscape without context and with only the vaguest of objectives — in this case, to reach a distant mountain on the horizon. During your three-hour trek across the desert, you’ll sporadically encounter ruins that offer platforming challenges and hint at an ancient civilization, long since buried under rolling waves of sand. Both the breathtaking visuals and the swelling musical score add emotional weight to a backstory you’l

l have largely invented in your own mind. And there’s a pervasive feeling of loneliness, until “Journey” introduces its most intriguing feature.
Eventually, you’ll encounter another player. His avatar will have no distinguishing characteristics, no PSN ID and no way to communicate other than with a single chirp. You’re free to ignore this stranger and carry on by your lonesome, or team up and enjoy some of the advantages that your unspoken partnership offers. Each of you can point out clues the other might have missed, and when you huddle together, you charge each other’s scarves — the only power-ups you have — which can be used to glide over large chasms. Because the gameplay is so simple, the lack of in-depth communication never feels like a hindrance to your cooperation, and like your quest itself, your companion remains shrouded in tantalizing mystery. The brief length and lack of challenge may disappoint some players, but “Journey” is a game that’s meant to be played in a single sitting. And it’s not meant to be conquered. It’s meant to be experienced.

‘SSX’

(E)

****

EA Sports

Xbox 360

This is easily the best “SSX” game (and, by extension, the best snowboarding game) yet. Branching, labyrinthine paths make it feel like you’re descending an actual mountain rather than a linear course. Boost is earned by performing tricks — the more elaborate the trick, the higher the boost multiplier. This creates a risk vs. reward system similar to the Burnout series. You’ll frequently find yourself rushing to squeeze in one last backflip before hitting the ground, just to get that multiplier…a little…bit…higher!

‘Syndicate’

(M)

***

Electronic Arts

Xbox 360

This sci-fi first-person shooter from the creators of “The Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay” creates a gorgeous tech-noir world filled with dark shadows and an abundance of lens flares. The story deals with high-tech industrial espionage in a future where corporations engage in a kind of gang warfare. Unfortunately, in terms of gameplay, it’s business as usual. Despite special abilities given to you by “apps” you hack from fallen enemies, you’ll spend all your time defeating your adversaries with conventional lead.



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