There are titles that transcend mediums; that blur the lines between gaming and cinema. Rather than have you endure hours of impassive gunplay, they instead draw you into the experience by making you emotionally invested in the story and characters. The French-based studio, Quantic Dream demonstrated this beautifully with the 2010 PS3 release, Heavy Rain. This master piece can be best described as an interactive drama action-adventure game and it took an audience on a poignant thriller starring four unique protagonists caught in a web of murder. While the pace (and multiple endings) of Heavy Rain isn't for everyone, it delivered a gaming experience that few could forget.
Beyond: Two Souls is a very similar venture from the same studio, but while Heavy Rain was intentionally fractured by multiple characters and plot devices, this new title has a much more centralised storyline. Coupled with sensational acting talent from the likes of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, Beyond: Two Souls has a heightened sense of character development and continuity that sets this experience apart from its earlier sibling.
For the record I have a strong dislike for quick-time events in games. It must have been a slow day at the office when someone agreed that pressing X at a particular moment in a cut-scene would ‘help immerse the player’. But anyone worried that this game involves tapping a button until they become Willem Dafoe can relax. As explored in Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls relies on context sensitive interactions that are both intuitive and engaging from start to finish.
This time around though, there is even less of a graphical interface. While Heavy Rain used symbolic gesture icons, Beyond: Two Souls implements a much more subtle on-screen indicator of a single glowing dot on objects or areas of interest. The user then intuitively toggles the right analogue stick in the appropriate direction, for example opening a door to your left requires a flick to the left when nearby. You can also control conversations by tapping a button that corresponds to an emotion, such as fear or anger; or whether to respond negatively or positively. The end result is a fluid synergy between you and the events that unfold around you, allowing you to be drawn into the story - but being interactive enough to make it a solid gaming experience.
The most impressive thing about what Quantic Dream have managed to accomplish is - despite the multitude of rapid-fire considerations thrown at you - you never feel overwhelmed by the decision-making process. Instead you will find yourself reacting spontaneously, and naturally, thanks to how immersive everything is around you. It takes a bit of practice, especially in heated moments where timing is essential, but before long you will find yourself syncing with the game perfectly.
The story and characters are Beyond: Two Souls’ main strengths and it would be an injustice to detail what we witnessed in our preview code. Every minute of gameplay should be explored individually, not to mention the fact that every person will experience it differently through their own decision making tree. But the overarching story centers around Jodie Holmes (voiced by and physically modelled off Ellen Page), an eight year old girl who has a connection to an invisible, but frighteningly powerful entity whom she has named Aiden. Throughout the game you will control Jodie, but also her pet poltergeist friend Aiden - allowing you to manipulate objects unseen, and even possess and control other characters in the game.
The game then follows Jodie through the next 15 years of her life as she grows into a young woman, both blessed and cursed by her supernatural ‘companion’. However, in our preview code, the storytelling isn’t linear. Instead players will jump between various stages of her life and while it’s difficult to tell if our demo has the sequence of events that we’ll see in the final build - the end result was extremely dramatic. One minute we’re discovering Jodie’s powers as a little girl in a medical facility, the next we are attending a party with her as a teenager; followed by an intense fight sequence on the rooftops of a train during a storm. One thing is certain, Beyond: Two Souls contains a lot more traditional action than Heavy Rain, especially in terms of combat.
Players will be taken on a deep psychological and spiritual journey that explores the theme of what happens after you die and, as the name implies, what lies ‘beyond’. There is also an emotionally charged side-plot revolving around Jodie’s foster father, voiced by and modelled off Willem Dafoe, who is conflicted by his love of science, fascination of Jodie’s special gift and, of course trying to be a father figure of sorts to a young Jodie. The two main actors deliver remarkable performances and it is no surprise that a small portion of this game was screened and appreciated at the 2013 Tribeca Film Festival (the only other game to do so was 2011's L.A. Noire). Beyond: Two Souls is a work of cinematic excellence, from camera angle work and soundtrack, right through to near-perfect character animations and dialogue.
Here at NZGamer.com, we’ve talked about Beyond: Two Souls a lot. We’ve had several sneak previews (including at E3) and this latest playable code just has us more excited about this game. In our opinion, the 9th October can’t arrive fast enough and you can rest assured we’ll bring you our full review as soon as it lands on our desk. For fans of Heavy Rain, this game looks to excel in nearly every facet - while those who never played it, this could be the perfect opportunity to see what the inspirational team at Quantic Dreams are capable of.