E3 2012 – Impressions of “Beyond: Two Souls”
The reception to Heavy Rain was a pretty mixed bag, but something that couldn’t be denied is the fact that David Cage and company at Quantic Dream followed-through in epic fashion when attempting to get the player emotionally involved in the game. The fact that the player could actually become emotionally attached to the four main characters was something that many have attempted unsuccessfully.
With their new project, instead of following 4 characters over a 4 day period, you’ll now experience the life of Jodie Holmes over a span of fifteen years. Jodie may seem like a normal girl, but there’s one major difference in her life that obviously affects everything around her. As hinted in the footage revealed at the Sony Press Event, something is very different about Jodie, something supernatural. At all times, Jodie is surrounded by an entity that she’s named ‘Aiden’ (pronounced I’Den.) They can talk to each other, and like the movie “Ghost,” Aiden can actually interact somewhat with the physical plane. But he’s not under Jodie’s control. Aiden has a personality, and even displays emotions.
In ‘Beyond: Two Souls’ you’ll be able to control both Jodie and Aiden, but in varying degrees. Aiden is tethered at all times to Jodie, but he can roam around at different times. The demo we were shown covered more of the action-oriented type of gameplay afforded in the game, and it starts on a train. Jodie is trying to get some sleep, curled-up on a seat toward the back of the car. Aiden, possibly getting bored, decides to roam-about the car. Visually, there’s always a tether back to Jodie, and Aiden can only traverse a short distance away from her. All of Aiden’s movements are controlled via the SIXAXIS controls, and interaction with physical objects is done via the twin sticks. At first, Aiden makes a passenger’s coffee cup fly off of the armrest, and makes a newspaper fly out of a different passenger’s hands. Aiden can even make someone feel cold, ad as we find out later, Aiden can do even more to a person.
The train stops at a station where a number of Police are waiting, all looking for Jodie. After she’s discovered on the train, the action begins as she makes a break for it. Unlike Heavy Rain though, the player has essentially full control over Jodie at all times. The on-screen prompts may look similar to those in Heavy Rain, but the QTE’s are much less frequent and seem a lot more “organic” at the same time. Jodie makes her way through the train cars, finally being cornered in the bathroom. She attempts to escape through a hatch in the roof, but she can’t open it. She asks Aiden for help, and quickly the hatch flings open, allowing her to escape to the top of the train.
Rain pours down as trees whip by in the darkness. As Jodie makes her way forward, policemen start appearing on the roof to take her down. A fight ensues as Jodie repels multiple enemies, but unfortunately she quickly becomes overwhelmed. With no other choice, she leaps from the train, and as seen in the trailer at the Press Event, a blue aura envelops her as she does so, as Aiden creates a shield around Jodie to protect her. She lands in a forest, but soon lights appear on the horizon, and a helicopter swoops-in overhead, shining a spotlight through the trees. Shadows move quickly all around her, and it becomes all too easy to become disoriented as you try to find a safe route for escape. Cage explains that there are no boundaries to the forest, and the player can go anywhere to try and escape. The choices made at key moments dictate what will happen next, and in our demo, Jodie finally makes it to a small bridge where unfortunately, 3 policemen are waiting at a makeshift roadblock.
Aiden glides into action, and that’s when we’re shown that certain people can actually be possessed by Aiden, allowing you to control them. The motorcycle cop is chosen, eyes changing to become completely white. You guide the cop to one of the SUV’s, and start ramming it into the guardrails on both sides. In the confusion, Jodie steals the motorcycle, which she quickly takes to the winding roads in the forest. Now the winding was a bit much, but I suspect it was a way for them to stream the immense visual overload of the scene. You control the motorcycle completely, including steering, braking, and acceleration. This is where the town shown in the post-demo reel comes into play.
Jodie rides into the town in the reel, only to crash the cycle and get surrounded by the SWAT team. There seems to be no hope, until she asks Aiden to help, and this is where the craziness begins. Aiden, under the players control, starts wreaking havoc on the cops that have her pinned-down. First, a car is thrown into some of them, then a sniper on the roof is possessed and starts taking other cops out. Another cop is possessed, popping the pin on a grenade and throwing it directly into a nearby gas station, taking a huge number of the SWAT out. Eventually, everyone is incapacitated, and Jodie comes out of hiding to find the lead SWAT officer laying on the ground. The rest was shown in the video, and that’s where our demo ended.
The first thing that came to my mind was “I can’t believe this is running on a current-gen console.” Heavy Rain looked great, but “Beyond” is truly that, with a level of detail the likes of which I haven’t seen before. Also, with the characters, that weird “dead-eye” thing s gone, and general movements are much-improved as well. There was the occasional framerate dip, but hey, the game’s not done yet.
Mr. Cage made it very clear that what we were seeing was very action-oriented, but that a good portion of the game is performance-based, with what he said is an amazing job done by Ellen Page. The level of performance shown on-screen is something that I’ve never experienced before, and it really blew me away. He talked quite a lot about the roots of the game, how it was about growing, accepting who you are when you’re different, and even about death itself. I have a feeling that we’ll see the moment when Aiden appears in Jodie’s life, and that we’ll experience her struggle to be a “normal person” in an extraordinary situation, having some entity always in your presence no matter what.
‘Beyond: Two Souls’ is a game that I can’t wait to experience. The evolution from what we played in Heavy Rain seems to be a huge jump already at this stage, and what we saw was only a sliver of what will be included in the final product. Color me impressed.