A Look at Beyond: Two Souls at E3
Last year at E3, Quantic Dream revealed Beyond: Two Souls. The game was going to be another “cinematic experience” much like Heavy Rain, in which gameplay focused on choices and reactions rather than mechanics. In short, it was going to be a huge quick-time event starring Ellen Page and a ghost that followed her around everywhere, but we were OK with that. This year, we got to see the game again, except now the whole thing had a bizarre military coat of paint on it. Gone were the gritty scenes of the main character, Jodie Holmes, running from the cops while her spirit guide, Aiden, brought down buildings to keep her safe. Instead, we got to see Ellen Page squatting behind cover and shouting at an African kid for 30 minutes. Is this a new direction for the story or just a shameless cash-in on the military game buzz that has been saturating the industry for years now?
The E3 demo picked up with Jodie taking serious fire from what I could only assume was some sort of African terrorist movement. Stuck behind a wall that was being riddled with assault rifle rounds, she called on the ghostly presence that follows her, Aiden, to help her out. Here is when you get your first dose of controlling Aiden. Everything Aiden does is controlled via a first-person view. The left stick moves Aiden while the right stick turns him, much like any other first-person shooter. You can also use the triggers to raise or lower his altitude. This control scheme would work just fine except Aiden always starts out hovering above Jodie and looking down at her. Aiden can pass right through walls, so if you immediately try to start moving, you’ll either plunge through the floor or back up into the air far away from the action. Unfortunately, this means that every time you switch the controls over to Aiden, you have to play the look-in-the-right-direction game before you can even start doing anything.
Things and people that Aiden can interact with are highlighted in different colors. Aiden can push, pull, choke, possess, and otherwise manipulate people and objects. The actions that Aiden can take are determined by the color the object or person is highlighted in, and you can see them quite well against Aiden’s blurred black and white vision. Once you have found the thing you want to interact with, you lock on to it with the R1 button. You then move the analog sticks to perform your action. Move them apart to possess, together to choke, forward to push, backward to pull, and so on and so forth.
Jodie, on the other hand, is controlled via the same controls that we saw in Heavy Rain. Aiden is also controlled in the same way when he possesses someone. When she gets close to something or someone she can interact with, an icon will pop up on the screen telling you what button to push, hold, or mash. You will also have to shake the controller at times or flick the analog stick. The only way Beyond differs from Heavy Rain is in its movement controls. Jodie doesn’t have to struggle with tank-like movement controls. Instead, she simply moves whenever you tilt the left stick.
Unlike Heavy Rain, which will outright tell you to flick analog sticks in a certain direction to perform an action, Beyond just tells you that you need to flick the right stick in some unknown direction to perform some unknown action. You have to guess what direction to flick it in by the way Jodie is moving. So, if she is dodging a knife, you pull the stick back, and if she is punching someone, you move the stick forward. Unfortunately, Jodie’s animations are not always self-explanatory, and flicking the stick in even a slightly off direction could get Jodie stabbed or thrown off a moving vehicle. It’s actually kind of infuriating, especially when it causes you to replay important scenes. It almost feels like the Dragon’s Lair guessing game all over again.
Beyond: Two Souls can actually be best described as a puzzle game. You will move Jodie through the game as far as you can until some sort of predicament (like the aforementioned terrorists) prevents her from moving any further. Then you will switch to Aiden and somehow clear Jodie’s obstructions (in this case, he choked one terrorist and possessed another in order to make him kill his squad and pull up a getaway vehicle for Jodie). You will then switch back to Jodie and continue on with the game until once again blocked: lather, rinse, and repeat.
Aiden can only exert his influence in a limited sphere around Jodie. So while you might be tempted to simply fly across the battlefield and get all of the soldiers to shoot themselves in the face, you will actually need to switch back and forth often in order to move Jodie closer to targets for Aiden; Aiden then clears the path for Jodie once again.
Of course, games like this are really made by their story, but unfortunately, I have no idea what the story is about. In our preview at last year’s E3, it seemed as if Jodie was kidnapped for murder, likely the murder of her spirit companion, and together they had to avoid the cops and the CIA. This time around, it seemed as if Jodie was forced into the military at a young age and trained to be a super soldier for some reason. Everyone around her thinks that Aiden is all in her head, though she swears he is real. Still, even though people think she is crazy, she is able to lead high-priority covert operations in the middle of Africa, taking down entire guerrilla factions only by herself.
To be honest, the story made very little sense. It seemed to needlessly throw in the military flavor just to make Call of Duty fans look twice at the game. However, as goofy and forced as the plot felt, it was only one part of a plot that is going to span all of Jodie’s life, and it’s hard to deny that, despite the shameless military coat of paint, the demo left me wanting to learn more.
Beyond: Two Souls is set to release on October 8th on the PlayStation 3.
Beyond Normal Gameplay
Beyond: Two Souls is the newest cinematic game from Quantic Dreams, the guys behind Heavy Rain. First unveiled at Sony’s pre-E3 press conference, Two Souls tells the story of Jodie Holmes, a young girl who is on the run from the law, and Aiden, the strange ghostly presence that follows her. Like Heavy Rain, Beyond will be based primarily on contextual cinematic gameplay. In fact, the development team is so committed to bringing you a Hollywood experience with Beyond: Two Souls that they have enlisted actress Ellen Page to play Jodie. But how does the game play?
There are two main methods of control in Beyond. Players will either be in control of Jodie or Aiden at any given point in the game. Jodie controls a lot like the characters in Heavy Rain did. As she explores her surroundings, the player will be given button prompts through icons overplayed on the screen. Then, they will either have to press, hold, or rapidly tap buttons, or do the same with analog sticks or shoulder triggers, sometimes even being asked to shake or tilt the PS3 controller. Unlike Heavy Rain, Jodie will not suffer from “tank control syndrome.” Instead, she will simply move when the analog stick is pressed, like any normal video game character. Everything in the game is controlled via these button prompts. Fighting is a quick time event. Examining evidence is a quick time event. Climbing a cliff is a quick time event. Just like Heavy Rain before it, the gameplay is entirely contextual.
When you switch to Aiden, things start to change. Aiden is not bound by a physical form, so he can fly, walk through walls, and essentially be wherever he needs to be. When you are controlling Aiden, Jodie moves on her own, progressing through the game even outside of your input. Aiden is tethered to Jodie, so he can only move about in a limited radius around her before losing all power (as signified by the screen going black and white and getting blurry). You can actually always tell where Jodie is because a blue tether line of energy connects her to you. You also never really get to see what Aiden looks like, as you control him in the first person.
Aiden has access to all the powers that you would think a poltergeist would have. He can move things around telekinetically, possess people, and see and hear things that Jodie cannot.
The story of Beyond spans fifteen years of Jodie’s life, and as Jodie gets older Aiden gets more powerful. At the start of the game he can only produce effects that are similar to parlor tricks, moving items and turning objects on and off. As the game progresses, Aiden’s tether to Jodie gets longer and he gets much more powerful. At one point Aiden becomes so strong he is able to tear down the spire of a clock tower to save Jodie from the police.
Aiden eventually gets the ability to possess other human beings, as mentioned earlier. At one point in the game, Jodie is being set upon but heavily armed members of the military. Aiden is able to possess the sniper in order to take out his whole squad. Similarly, he is able to possess a helicopter pilot in order to bring the helicopter crashing down. When Aiden possesses someone, the controls change to the classic Heavy Rain controls we are used to. All actions become contextual and quick time event based, just like when you are controlling Jodie.
This Aiden/Jodie relationship is the centerpiece of the game’s gameplay and storytelling. As the arc begins to unfold, the audience begins to learn about the tether and how it affects the people around them. Like most of Cage’s games, the storytelling is often understated and metaphorical, and almost always unexpected.
“Don’t expect us to do anything traditional,” Cage told Eurogamer last summer. “We didn’t make any compromise. ‘Oh, let’s put some explosions so we’re gonna get more gamers buying the game’—that’s really not how we think, otherwise we would have done probably Heavy Rain 2, which would have guaranteed more sales. There is an explosion because I need an explosion, not because I think an explosion will make me sell more.”
Not much is known about the overall storyline, because Cage has been characteristically tight-lipped about the whole thing. But Quantic has released several video clips along with last year’s E3 trailer. In the trailer, we get a taste of Jodie’s power as she violently extinguishes a SWAT team’s plan to take her into custody. Jodie and Aiden are obviously a very powerful duo, but these abilities force Jodie to walk an ethical tight rope that she’s obviously grown tired of. She just wants to be left alone.
The graphics in Beyond: Two Souls almost seem like they’re bend the rules—as though they shouldn’t be possible on the current generation of consoles. However, Quantic did design their own proprietary graphics engine to make Beyond: Two Souls possible, and all 2000 pages of the actors’ performances were captured via Quantic’s motion capture technology. The game still retains Cage’s trademark aesthetic, but it has an impressive new sheen.
The fact that Sony kicked off last year’s E3 conference with David Cage’s Beyond: Two Souls announcement proves that they have a lot of faith in Cage’s ability to punctuate the current generation of consoles with an exclamation point. And I’m certainly not going to argue. Beyond: Two Souls may very well be Cage’s next step to godhood. But we’ll have to wait and see.