Yes, you're right: Sky is a timed exclusive to iOS, so what on Earth is a preview of thatgamecompany's Journey follow-up doing on Push Square? Well, the developer has a close association with PlayStation, having crafted three excellent exclusive titles over the course of about six years. When we received an invitation to play an early build of Sky, we couldn't pass up an opportunity to get a sneak peek. The title will likely end up on PS4 eventually - it's down as a multi-platform game, after all - so we thought it would be interesting to see how the game is holding up.
First thing's first, this is every inch a thatgamecompany production. By that, we mean it looks beautiful, sounds wonderful, and has that trademark whimsical appeal. The main thrust of Sky's gameplay is similar in nature to Journey, in that you're travelling through mysterious and intriguing environments, observing murals depicting the world's history. The end goal is less clear, however; there is a distant landmark on the horizon, but it's less of a focal point. Having said that, the smaller levels do a good job at funnelling you along, despite some pretty wide expanses and the ability to fly in some instances.
There are only a select handful of levels available in the test, but it gives us a good bite of the apple, including gorgeous cloud covered plains, an open space to fly around in with manta ray-like creatures, and darker, moodier areas where things all go a bit grey and spooky. It's difficult to get a grasp on any sort of story, as like Journey, exposition is kept to a minimum. We're no clearer on who the children you play as are, or what their role is in the grand scheme of things.
It really feels like the focus of Sky is entirely on your interactions with other players. Journey's influential, anonymous multiplayer has been opened up dramatically, allowing you to engage with people in multiple ways. thatgamecompany describes Sky as a game about giving, and that's certainly true; one of the most important ways you can connect with players is by approaching them and giving them candles. Doing so unlocks more ways of socialising with a particular player. You start off by unlocking the ability to give a nickname to your new buddy, and can go on to unlock things like holding hands, hugging, or full-blown text chat. Receiving gifts also affords you hearts, which can be used to give more gifts or unlock new hairstyles, capes, and other cosmetic items. It all sounds a bit lovey-dovey, but it's a far more palatable experience than having abuse hurled at you every ten seconds. Only text chat could be seen as a way to grief people, but from our few hours of playtime, no one used it for such nefarious purposes, and we had a jolly nice time indeed.
We spent about an hour and a half playing with one other player who travelled alongside us for most of the preview build, and with whom we unlocked most of the interactions on offer. As well as the actions described earlier, there are also many emotes to unlock, which see your avatars bowing, dancing, and waving to each other. It really feels like an extension of Journey's magical multiplayer as we fly hand in hand together, exchanging pleasantries, and forming a surreal connection. It seems thatgamecompany hasn't lost its magic touch. Sky promises to replicate and build upon Journey's multiplayer, allowing you to make even more meaningful connections with other players through acts of kindness.
Any issues we had with the demo will likely be addressed by the time the game is finished, but the touch screen controls are a bit of a chore on our aging iPhone 6. Performance is also a bit choppy at times, but we imagine both of these issues are at least partly because of the device we're using. The important thing to take away from the demo is that Sky, in this early state, is looking very promising. By the time this reaches PS4, it should be another polished and emotive experience from thatgamecompany.
Are you looking forward to playing thatgamecompany's next big thing? Will you be waiting for a potential PS4 version, or flying through the clouds on your tablet? Hug it out in the comments below.