It's fair to say that thatgamecompany's titles flOw and Flower eschewed traditional gameplay mechanics in favor of a more artistic approach. It's the developer's aim to create different emotional responses in each of its games, as cofounder and creative director Jenova Chen explained on a recent visit to London. He was on hand to demonstrate Journey, the developer's latest title, and in particular the co-op play that makes this its first-ever multiplayer game.
If you've yet to hear about Journey, be sure to read our previous coverage on the game, as this preview focuses mostly on its co-op features. "A lot of co-op games give me a lot of frustrations," explained Chen. "Most games make you feel like a god. But when you focus on empowerment, players think about how they can use that power against each other." Chen pointed out observations that he'd made about cooperation in general life. He noticed that while people in the city go about their business never talking to each other, people in the wilderness are more inclined to communicate with passersby. "When you're hiking, you're vulnerable, so you're more likely to say hi," he said.
It's this ethos that has informed Journey's multiplayer mechanic. While you find yourself lost in a vast desert at the beginning of the game, if you're online, you'll soon find other passersby with whom you can interact. You'll be able to partner with one of them simply by approaching, at which point you'll be able to share resources and solve puzzles together. If either of the pair decides he or she wants to go it alone, that player can simply move away from the other player at any time. What you won't be able to do is communicate verbally. Chen claims that it was given a trial, but it detrimentally affected the game. That means that you could end up playing the game with an 80-year-old woman or a 16-year-old boy and never know it, but thatgamecompany claims that mystery actually aids the overall experience.
So how does co-op actually work? Well, Chen and thatgamecompany colleague Robin Hunicke jumped on separate PlayStation 3 consoles to show us. Each player's avatar features different symbols on his or her chest, so that you can differentiate between people as you meet them. The game's resource takes the form of ribbons, which are collected around the world and then displayed on your character's scarf. When you use powers, such as the ability to fly, these ribbons are used up and drift away into the air. If you're playing cooperatively, they can be collected by the other player, effectively allowing you to share resources between each other. You'll also need to work together to solve cooperative puzzles. We saw an instance where both players had to stand on platforms simultaneously to continue.
Our glimpse at the game also allowed us to find out a little bit more out about the story. The game begins with the player dropped in the desert, with a vast mountain off in the distance. It's clear that you need to make your way there, but as the title suggests, the game is more about the journey than the destination. Along the way, you're able to explore secret areas, such as going through a sand waterfall, which contains tapestries that offer some understanding of the events that led up to the game. We also got to see how accessible the game is, with jumping and climbing occurring automatically as Chen ascended a structure.
Journey is a beautiful-looking game, particularly thanks to the sand effects. At one point, the wind caused the ground to ripple like a vast lake. Thankfully, we're also promised environments such as mountains as you progress. Chen also promises some conflict in the game, although he wouldn't draw on the enemies you might come across. We're sure to see more of Journey in the run-up to release, so if this is a trip you want to undertake, be sure to check out GameSpot for more information when we have it.