Beyond: Two Souls looks like a beautiful game. It’s likely to net many ‘Best of E3’ awards this year, and frankly, after seeing two different levels from the game it’s looking like it deserves the honour.
Beyond, created by the makers of interactive story Heavy Rain, is about a girl named Jodie who has always felt a presence around her, connecting her to the world of the dead. She calls this presence Iden. It’s male–- or at least Jodie seems to think so – and has a personality of its own.
Players will follow Jodie’s life for fifteen years, from a little girl into early adulthood. At the time of the demo level, Jodie was twenty-three years old and on the run from the police. Writer and director of the game, David Cage, didn’t explain why exactly Jodie was a fugitive, but we assume it’s something to do with the fact that she, with the help of Iden, is incredibly powerful.
If you’ve played Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain you’ll know what to expect in some respects. Beyond does not follow the usual game tropes. It’s a single-player, interactive storytelling experience, driven in large part by quicktime events. However, Heavy Rain had a 75% completion rate – extremely high for a video game – so despite the fact that it’s not a game in the typical sense, the story drove people on to its end.
For those people who wanted a little more action in Heavy Rain, however, there’s plenty to be had. Beyond has got high-speed chases, exploding helicopters, and more, but Cage said all of that stuff would only happen once in the course of the game. According to him, there’s very little repetition, and loads of different things to do.
A couple of months ago Quantic Dream released a tech demo for their latest engine, using performance capture and an actress by the name of Valerie Curry. The demo, called Kara, demonstrated the way an actor could deliver an emotional performance in a video game using the technology.
Performance capture really does make the characters in the game more real, more vibrant, and far more detailed. Hollywood actress Ellen Page lends both her voice and her movement to Beyond, and the game benefits from it greatly. When Jodie moves through a forest in Beyond, her movement is natural, and dependent on both the context of the story and how you use the controller. Jodie sees the cops, she’ll start creeping around more quietly. She’ll often grab onto nearby objects to keep her balance, and her hands will swing slightly as she walks. When the camera zooms in for an extreme close-up of her face, her eyes waver and every pore is visible.
You don’t just play as Jodie, however. You can switch between Jodie and Iden at any point in the game. Iden is a bit of a poltergeist in the sense that you can make him knock over someone’s coffee cup, or snatch the newspaper out of the hands of an unsuspecting commuter. But he also has other, more sinister abilities. When playing as Iden, you can see the auras of the people around you. Some people have orange auras, which means they can be possessed, and some people have red auras, which means they can be choked to death. When Iden possesses people, he can force them to kill other people, or themselves, or make them create a diversion to assist Jodie on her way.
But as much as Iden can be a nasty spirit, he can also assist Jodie. David Cage said Iden could be possessive and jealous of Jodie, but also very protective. He’s protective both in the figurative and the literal sense – he can actually create a ghostly shield around her to protect her from the attacks of the people who are after her.
Like in Heavy Rain, there’s no way to reach a ‘Game Over’ screen. The decisions you make, combined with your failures, can have both short-term and long-term consequences, but they never end the game entirely. Even when playing as Iden, you can influence his personality and help to shape who he is through what actions you make him take.
“Having game over situations is nonsense”, explained Cage. “You’ll just go back in time and see the same thing again so it doesn’t make any sense.”
Instead of having to replay the segment, you’ll wind up in a different scene of the game, Cage said. If you get caught by the cops, you have to find your way out of that situation.
Granted, the sections of Beyond on display at E3 have been polished and then polished again, but what we saw was stellar. We loved Heavy Rain, and if the rest of the game is as great as what we’ve seen, we’re probably going to love Beyond too.