9.5

Flower transcends the normal bounds of video games to become the poster child for the movement insisting games are art.

If there's one thing that can be said of Flower, it's that it supports the long standing argument that video games are an art form. More of an "interactive dream" than a true video game, Flower capitalizes on this argument to the fullest. There are no monsters in Flower, there is no dying, there is no heads-up display, there is no timer. The only thing present is the wind, your hands on the PlayStation 3's SIXAXIS controller, a whole lot of grass, and a metric ton of flower petals.

The idea in Flower is that you start off in each of the six worlds looking at a single un-bloomed flower. By holding down a button on the controller, you get the wind blowing, which makes the flower bloom and a petal will come off and ride the breeze. Using the SIXAXIS motion controls, you guide the flower petals and the wind around the landscape to make it touch other flowers, who will then give up their petals and bloom as well. As you collect more petals from various flowers things happen - other areas of the world will be unlocked or changes to the landscape will occur that let you progress. The goal is each world is to bloom every single flower present - there are three sets of secret flowers in each world as well, which must be found by completing various tasks - and then enter a swirling vortex at the end.

Once you complete a world you're then taken to the game's main menu - a windowsill in a city apartment lined with drooping flowers. By completing each world you bring the flowers back to life one at a time. Once you complete all of the worlds, nothing actually happens other than each of the flowers looking brilliant and small picture frame appearing allowing you to enter the credits - which themselves appear as a landscape through which you can blow around flower petals. This lack of an overarching purpose to the game comes as a breath of fresh air - you're never being pressed to complete any particular objective and since there is no heads-up display in the game there's nothing ever pestering you for attention. The game takes many steps to fully immerse you in the experience and succeeds exceptionally.

To make everything complete, Flower is also a technical masterpiece. Each individual blade of grass in Flower is rendered separately and there are literally thousands of blades of grass on the screen at any given time. To make things more impressive, each flower petal is individually rendered as well and in the later worlds you can have hundreds of flower petals riding on the breeze. You would expect this to come at a high price in terms of framerate stability, but amazing it doesn't. The framerate remains silky smooth throughout the entire game and there's hardly any jagged edges either. The game looks and play incredibly smooth.

It also sounds great. Audio is a key part of the Flower experience - from the way that touching a flower and making it bloom plays a single note to the way that making a long succession of flowers bloom systematically will combine those single notes into a relaxing harmony. Players with a great surround sound setup will get the most out of Flower's audio, although those with good stereo setups won't be hurting either. Environmental effects such as rain drops, thunder crashes, and the low swishing of grass as your flower petals fly through are all rendered at exactly the right level to create video gaming auditory heaven.

There's really no two ways around it. Flower is art in the form of a video game. The message that man's evolution is slowly tearing nature apart and that nature will one day retake what was lost - if not in the way that we might expect it to - is a simple one, but it's one that carries a lot of emotional weight. With the recent debates about global warming and man's footprint on the Earth as a society at the forefront of our daily lives, it's also a message that's bound to hit home with quite a large audience. That Flower is able to do this in such a subtle way is a testament to just how far game design has come over the last thirty years - and it allows Flower transcend the normal bounds that games are limited to. If you own a PlayStation 3 you owe it to yourself to have this experience. It will be one you never forget.

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