Beyond: Two Souls - Hands on Preview


Beyond: Two Souls - Hands on Preview
We've seen Quantic Dream's latest and its their most ambitious to date
At a recent studio visit to Quantic Dream’s Paris-based studio, Click got a chance to not only hear from game Director and Writer DavidCage about his new story driven experience but also got the chance to get hands on with an alpha version of one of the levels in the game.

Beyond: Two Souls is the story of a life, specifically that of young Jodie Holmes between the ages of 8 and 23. Jodie is special, something her parents first notice when she is very young when a series of paranormal events seem to follow her around, while she starts to talk about her enthusiastic invisible friends Aiden. Enlisting the help of a team of scientists, led by Nathan Dawkins, kicks off an epic adventure which deals with life, death and what lies on the other side.

In an incredible casting coup, Jodie is played by Canadian star Ellen Page throughout the game, with her likeness even used for the younger versions, based on photos of the actress. Dr. Nathan is embodied by Willem Defoe and groundbreaking performance capture technology allowed them to interact together during filming at Quantic Dream’s unique facility.

I was treated to a lengthy hands off section of the game which I can reveal more on soon but I also got the chance to pick up a PS3 controller for about 15 minutes of hands on time with an early build of Beyond: Two Souls.

The playable section takes place roughly halfway through the age span of the game, when Jodie is 16 years old, but not necessarily halfway through the game itself. According to Cage, Beyond will play out in ‘chronological disorder’ – a method he likens to the use of fractured narrative in Memento. The reason for this will become clear in the final game, but it seems events will unfold like the random flitting from one memory to the next, perhaps from some kind of modern day framing narrative.

Our demo kicks off as Nathan rouses Jodie and drives her to a laboratory where some violence has occurred, presumably to use her paranormal powers to investigate what has happened. All her life, Jodie has been paired with a mysterious entity called Aiden which grants her the ability to move outside her body and interact with objects in unusual ways. Much of Beyond’s gameplay focuses on the interplay between working as Jodie and Aiden and this demo is just one example of how that relationship works.

The lab has clearly been attacked, with emergency workers outside and survivors and those less fortunate being wheeled by on gurneys. The teenaged Jodie moves through it all fearfully, reacting to every sound and movement. It’s clear that’s she’s scared, which is just one example of the extraordinary animation work which means each scene plays out with different key movements, adding to the personality of the character.

Concept art from Beyond Two Souls
Concept art from Beyond Two SoulsEnlarge Enlarge

Happily, Quantic Dream has moved away from the awkward walking controls for Heavy Rain, assigning movement to the left stick for a more fluid interface. And fluidity is key to everything they havehas implemented here – those QTEs are mostly absent, instead the vast majority of actions are directed by the right stick. Interactive items are highlighted with a subtle white dot and you’ll simply push in the direction of where they are in relation to Jodie. So if you want to pick something up, just flick down, to stand move the stick up.

It’s very simple, very slick and remarkably intuitive, with similar commands controlling action moments. Naturally, more complex interactions are sometimes necessary, and QTE’s do appear from time (even including some six axis moments) to time but accessibility is key at all times and the all but invisible HUD is very impressive.

The demo continued with a series of simple puzzles that require the use of Aiden to proceed. This talented invisible friend can also move through walls at will (remaining tethered to Jodie by a cord which restricts your range) and interact with certain objects, usually by violently flinging them around. One puzzle tasked us with floating out as Aiden and removing a box which was blocking a lift door. Aiden floats from a first person perspective and moving through walls is made a little less confusing via an Xray like filter which helps you to orientate. You can lock onto interactive items with the R1 button before dragging both stick back and thrusting forward for some satisfying onscreen box violence.

Another of Aiden powers which was revealed in this demo allowed players to interact with corpses as Jodie, prompting a switch to Aiden’s perspective where the twin sticks are used to make a connection of floating particles between the deceased and Jodie’s head. Once achieved, you’re treated to a glimpse at the last few moments of the person’s life – in this case violent death from a mysterious force which is likely related to experiments that are trying to open a portal to another plane of existence.

The live demo was very similar to these concept images
The live demo was very similar to these concept imagesEnlarge Enlarge

These visions (apart from doing a good job of scaring the crap out of Jodie) can also be used to gain insight into puzzles – one moment showed us the death of a firefighter, giving us a chance to see where he dropped a fire extinguisher that was necessary for us to progress.

The demo ended almost midsentence, making me wish for a few more minutes with the game. As a first experience, Beyond: Two Souls is remarkably polished. Though the graphics are certainly not the final build, there’s a good level of detail which is very reminiscent of Heavy Rain. The character animation is superb (though the slow walking speed became a little grating) and Page’s features shine through those of the young Jodie. Some stunning flame effects and the stylistic elements of Aiden’s view give an idea of how stunning the final product will be.

Beyond: Two Souls is still several months away from release but based on this demo, and the longer hands off section I saw, it looks remarkably complete. Better still it appears that Quantic Dream was willing to listen to some of the criticisms levelled at Heavy Rain, specifically in the walking controls and also interested in iterating the context-based interactions to change the way we think about regular QTE’s. But what struck me most was the team’s dedication to story-telling, an art which was never considered wholly suited to video games. Beyond is intended as an emotional journey and uses an incredible variety ofmethods to bring audiences along for the ride, including unique mechanics and interactions for each and every scene we saw.

Last year’s E3 trailer may have been big on action but Cage was keen to point out that moment is the only instance of that kind of chase sequence in the game. Likewise the events of some 40 minutes of continuous play in a section titled Homeless were considerably different to our hands on demo, and each scene is embodied by professional actors and brought to life through animations created solely for that moment in the game. There’s no doubting the ambition of DavidCage and the team at Quantic Dream and I for one can’t wait to see how this unusual adventure plays out.

Beyond: Two Souls is coming exclusively to PS3 from the 8th of October 2013. You can view pictures and commentary from our visit to the Quantic Dream studios right here.

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