This post has not been edited by the GamesBeat staff. Opinions by GamesBeat community writers do not necessarily reflect those of the staff.
My first trip through thatgamecompany’s Journey was a solitary one. Well, that’s not entirely true; according to the game’s credits, I came across eight different people on that trek. They were little more than a novelty, popping in and out of my game at random. At times I actively abandoned them, either to my own exploration or as welcome distractions for the game’s sparse “enemies.” I reached the peak with a mix of my own abilities and my willingness to sacrifice my partners. In all honesty, I felt little remorse and was completely satisfied with my experience.
Still, I was intrigued by the simple and seamless way others could just appear in my world, so I stepped back in to examine the mechanics a little more deeply. This second playthrough came after reading the trophy list. There were co-op trophies that seemed unattainable without some sort of coordination, something I thought to be similarly unattainable. The only method of communication is by tapping or holding the “sing” button. So, not knowing how it would go, I started a new journey and tried to connect with the first person I ran into.
Like clockwork, in the first puzzle area, someone wandered into my game. At first I just followed them, making sure they wouldn’t fade from my world. We both had fairly long scarves, so we could each tell the other had been through this before. We’d occasionally sing at each other, alerting the other of a scarf glyph or hidden area. We finally completed the area and went to the meditation area, where I was sure I would lose my new partner. When we activated the stones, though, we sat down together, and when the cutscene ended, we stood up together.
From there, he followed me as much as I followed him. Staying together automatically recharges your scarves (which are used to jump), so it was in our best interest, anyway. He led us safely through the first dark area (where I had before thrown people under the bus), and I made sure we went back for secrets I’d found in my previous playthrough. This interdependence only grew deeper after the late-game scenery shift, where scarf energy depletes over time. Staying together helped us overcome the drain, and when I got blown back by an enemy, my companion came back for me! As we crossed over windy ruins, we sang back and forth, making up little games where we’d add a note with each response.
Spoilers in this paragraph: In the final stretch of the summit, our scarves disintegrated in the cold wind, leaving us no real reason to stick together. Our voices weakened, our songs turning into gasps. Still we walked together, even as the weather worsened. When he finally collapsed from the cold, I made it only a few steps further. In my final ascent, the quick and colorful aftermath of the blizzard, I couldn’t find my companion! I progressed nervously through the garden, unable to tell if he was ahead or behind. Here and there, I would hear a song, but in the cascade of color, I couldn’t tell if it was him, or just a scarf creature. I thought I caught fleeting glimpses of him glittering ahead of me; I thought I passed him at one point. As I reached the top, I looked back down behind me, waiting for him to come, but I didn’t spot him. Finally, I turned around, ready to make the final walk without him – and he was waiting for me! Once again scarfless, we walked through the pass and into the light, side by side.
I have no idea who this person was. We never said one word to each other, and I’ve already forgotten their online ID, but the experience we forged was so natural, certainly not like Call of Duty match, or even a character driven co-op game like Gears of War. The simplicity of our interaction made them seem like an AI partner: not one you just order around or follow around, but an equal, one who’s there just for the sake of sharing the journey. It’s easy to hand someone a headset and let them talk, but to strip that out and put all the interaction at a fictionally appropriate, mechanical level takes skill, and to have it work out almost perfectly is all the more difficult. I hope you play Journey. More than that, I hope you meet someone special while playing Journey. Who knows what you'll find together.