The beta for thatgamecompany's Journey is available to lucky PlayStation 3 owners this week, and I am pleased to say I'm one of them. Having taken the game for a spin and engaging in its unique multiplayer, I am still finding it impossible to judge how much I'll like the final game ... but it's definitely memorable.
Part of that is due to the unique and thoroughly engrossing multiplayer.
As you'll gather from our full preview, Journey is all about exploring a strange and mystical world. As a cloaked traveler, you wander the desert, gaining temporary jumping powers with a magic scarf, and letting strange one-note songs ring out to activate presumably ancient structures. "Gameplay" as we typically understand it has been tossed aside to focus on absorbing the player in an engaging world.
The multiplayer is what really stands out, though. Journey's world is accessible to random players who you will simply find while playing. Whether your choose to join them or not is up to you, but they will be working toward the same goals as you, and working together might help you spot hidden goodies.
I stumbled across another player in the beta's second area -- identical to me, with no visible username or real method of communication. Using our ability to let out one-note chirps, however, we were able to gain an understanding of each other.
We chirped so we wouldn't lose each other. We touched in order to keep each other's jump ability powered up. We ran across the desert together while chasing flying carpets. The world of Journey is stark, dead and lonely despite its eerie beauty, and that made me want to stick with my new companion all the more. Sliding down a dune with a new friend next to me, chasing carpets. It was magical, to say the least.
Co-op games often cause me to lose interest in a game. It's hard to follow a story when you've got someone chatting in your ears, and it's hard to enjoy a game while worrying about looking "bad" in front of another player. Journey, by stripping players of communication and identity, by placing them in a world where they simply explore together, has sidestepped all the usual issues of co-op gaming.
Demon's Souls come to mind when I think about this. That game also used limited communication and an unconventional, perpetual set up in order to create a sense of simultaneous loneliness and camaraderie. It's a beautiful thing, and an experience that only videogames can give us.
I have no idea who I played with. I don't know their PSN username or what they thought about the game.
I had fun though. Whoever you are!