Thatgamecompany is renowned for its commitment to emotional, evocative experiences at the vanguard of the medium of video games. "Gravediggers," one of three minigames making their public debut in the Journey Collector's Edition compilation, is perhaps the antithesis of that style — but it's no less engaging than their celebrated PSN titles.
The three minigames on the disc all came out of thatgamecompany's internal 24-hour game jams, each a quick day-long sprint to create a playable PS3 game. "Gravediggers" was the product of the first such session, which took place in 2008 with two main goals, according to studio co-founder Kellee Santiago: "To see how much fun we could generate in 24 hours," and "to make something multiplayer we could play in the office."
"Gravediggers" may only look slightly more advanced than an Atari 2600 game, but the simple visuals serve the fast-paced action well. You play as a pistol-equipped grave digger who runs around killing zombies; each time you shoot one, its head pops off for you to collect and deposit in one of two crypts. But you're competing with up to five other local players for those zombie heads, since the first person to bury 50 of them wins. Opponents are fair game, too — a player's head is worth five points instead of one, and once you kill someone else, they drop all of the heads they were carrying.
When you die, either at the hands of a player or a zombie, you lose your head and are reborn as a zombie. Biting is much less effective than shooting, of course, and the only way to regain your human form is to pick up your head. If your killer already grabbed it, you'll have to kill them, or wait until they deposit in a crypt, at which point your head reappears somewhere in the randomly generated level.
Even in the two-player game I tried, my opponent and I undertook a mad dash for zombie skulls, double-jumping around the level and obliterating the dirt in our way to kill the creatures shambling toward us before they could dine on our brains. I gained a major advantage as soon as I picked up a shotgun, one of four special weapons, which Santiago referred to as the game's "uber-weapon."
I began to blow away everything in my path, whether it was a zombie, my opponent, or level geometry, until a zombie took me down from behind and my opponent ran over to pick up all the heads I'd collected to that point. Luckily, I rose from my grave and was able to pick up my head and start firing again. After chasing around the other player, I eventually killed her and regained control of most of the zombie heads, eventually winning with 65 points.
Our game of "Gravediggers" took fewer than 10 minutes, but if both of us didn't have other commitments, we would've kept playing. It seems like the action would get exponentially more crazy as the player count rose; below, you can check out some footage of a five-player game.
Journey Collector's Edition will launch in North America on August 28th on PlayStation 3.