The lights are on
Many games have multiplayer, but few games have multiplayer quite like Journey. The unique part about the multiplayer in Journey is that it surprises you. It does not start out as a multiplayer experience. At the beginning, it is just you and the sand, wandering around, getting a feel for the land. But then at a certain point, if you’re hooked up to the Internet, another player will arrive in your world.
For me, it was right after the initial area where you walk through the ruins and find yourself in a wide expanse, dotted with tall pillars holding up what appear to be fractured pieces of a bridge. The game gives you no direction of what to do, so you explore. I wandered around the dusty landscape, seeing what there is to see, and then suddenly I heard a voice – a song note coming from far away in the distance. The voice kept chirping, so I went to see what it was, curious what it could be. Once I reached the far wall where the voice came from, I saw an inconspicuous crease in the wall, and a character that looked just like mine emerged.
And then there we were. All of a sudden, there was another human-controlled player who could sing and move around and jump, and it was up to us to progress together. The way it happened in my experience playing Journey was so natural it was striking. That another player would be calling from the far side of the area and appear made him seem mysterious and wondrous. I have no idea what the game must look like from his perspective. Did it actually look like he was coming out of the wall in his game? Or was he wandering around the desert and it looked like I wandered into his game somehow? I suppose it doesn’t really matter. The game designers did a masterful job of seamlessly and naturally bringing another player into the world, and it blew my mind for a brief spell. That’s what matters.
The beauty of it is this co-op partner isn’t someone you know; it’s always anonymous. But the game is designed in such a way that even though you don’t know each other, you work together. From the moment I met this random partner, we started moving around and jumping. Soon we learned that using the button for singing near your partner would illuminate the scarf on the other player, letting them fly. So by using cooperation, we could fly much higher and move through the world more quickly than we could by ourselves, which seems like an intentional metaphor now that I’ve articulated it like that.
Journey is a powerful multiplayer experience because it bonds two strangers together on a common path. I could have chosen to ignore this player that entered my world, but why would I? Journey placed us together as the only living things for miles, both heading toward the same mysterious destination on that faraway mountain. Though we never knew each other, we immediately became compatriots, and there’s something to be said for a video game making that happen so effortlessly.
The way Journey introduces a new player into the world is incredibly smart. For me, wandering around the deserted world was initially fascinating but a little lonely. Then, after wandering around for 30 minutes or so, the game sneakily introduces another person in the world, and suddenly it wasn’t as lonely anymore. I had a companion, and so did the other player. Journey informs us that even strangers will stick together if they are the only ones around. In fact, they might even enjoy each other’s company.
Email the author Shin Hieftje, or follow on Game Informer.