Hands-on: Beyond Two Souls
“This game is not about shooting or driving cars. It’s about an incredible journey of a girl,” said David Cage, Quantic Dream's founder, CEO and director for the studio’s upcoming title, Beyond Two Souls.
Hailing from France, Quantic Dream has proven with its earlier title Heavy Rain that drama is a crucial ingredient to a great interactive game. Its next masterpiece, starring Ellen Page (Juno, Inception) as the lead character Jodie Holmes and Willem Dafoe as Nathan Dawkins, a government scientist who is examining Jodie’s mysterious powers, was introduced more than a year ago at the annual gaming event E3, and will be coming soon exclusively for PlayStation 3.
The plot thickens
Beyond Two Souls
Cage, who is currently on tour to promote Beyond Two Souls, mentioned that the game is on a much more epic scale than Heavy Rain. Both games, however, share the studio’s signature - an interactive game heavily driven by an immersive plot, which explains the 2,000-page script centred around Jodie’s power, attributed to a mysterious entity known as Aiden that Jodie communicates with.
Though the plot moves through 15 years of Jodie’s life, the story is not played out chronologically. “It’s like Memento, the player needs to connect the dots as he plays,” said Cage.
Dafoe’s character serves as the surrogate father for Jodie as she deals with the emotional conflict of a girl who desires nothing more than leading a normal life. While Jodie views her power as a burden rather than a blessing, Nathan has other plans for her, though Cage was tight-lipped over the nature of what Dafoe’s character has in store for Aiden.
Cutscenes? More like playscenes
Beyond Two Souls Gameplay
Quick time events (QTE) is no longer the deciding factor for action sequences, said Cage. Instead, players will see an all-too-familiar bullet-time fight sequence, allowing them, to react and push the analog sticks to execute action moves by Jodie in a fistfight. A left hook, for example, will require a quick push of the analog stick to the left to connect and land the punch.
But unlike games which rely on QTE to either advance or kill your character, the dreaded Game Over screen does not appear on Beyond Two Souls. “Nothing is binary, you don’t win or lose,” said Cage. No replays, no restart, it’s business as usual if Jodie does not evade capture on the train and ends up in a room with handcuffs on her wrist. But if she wakes up and runs before the cops mark her, the story branches towards an escape scene.
Prompts are also less obvious, and players have to figure out what their next action is when they interact with an inconspicuous white circle. A simple left instead of right push on the analog stick could result in a very different action and move the story in a totally different direction. "This is not a game where you press a button after 30 minutes of cutscenes,” Cage declares with pride.
Be prepared for multiple playthroughs if you are a perfectionist. Cage estimates that there are 23 different endings, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. “Some people think every choice you make is linear, but once they compare their playthrough with their friends, they will notice that they missed different scenes,” said Cage.
Advancing through the game requires players to switch between Jodie, who interacts with real-world objects, and Aiden, which lets you choke or even possess players. Cage remarked that with Heavy Rain, they noticed that players have to deal with friends who act as backseat players and try to influence their decisions.
“In Beyond, we added a two-player mode, where one player controls Jodie, and the other acts as Aiden,” said Cage. He also added that an app, which connects to the game via the same Wi-Fi network, turns iOS and Android devices into touchscreen controllers to “help casual gamers” who are not familiar with the PlayStation DualShock controller.
Behind Two Souls
Willem Dafoe, David Cage and Ellen Page behind the scenes of Beyond Two Souls
Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe behind the scenes of Beyond Two Souls
Though Beyond Two Souls will be available exclusively on PlayStation 3, Cage mentioned that the game was designed with the PlayStation 4 hardware in mind. Using a totally new and different engine from what the studio did with Heavy Rain, every single cutscene is based on in-game footage.
Emotions are captured with stunning details, reminiscent of RockStar’s L.A. Noire which paid an insane amount of attention to facial expressions. Beyond Two Souls uses performance capture which records body movement, facial expression and voice simultaneously.
“This is the same technique that James Cameron used for Avatar,” said Cage, as he explained how performance capture is a step up above what the studio did with Heavy Rain, which required two takes, one to capture the facial expressions and voice over, and the other for body movement. The downside to this, said Cage, was an out-of-sync gameplay experience.
But performance capture comes with its own hurdles to cross. “The challenge is the lack of environment and wardrobe. The actors have to recreate the scene with basic props and depend on role acting,” said Cage.
Go beyond from 6th October
Beyond Two Souls availability
Available from 6th October, Beyond Two Souls comes in three editions. Both the standard and special edition are priced at $69.90. The special edition comes in a steelbook packaging and includes 30 minutes of additional playable scene, four videos that detail the making of Beyond Two Souls, an original soundtrack produced by Hans Zimmer, a dynamic PS3 theme and a PSN avatar pack.
An Asia-exclusive director’s edition, priced at $104.90, will include the same items from the special edition, plus a hard-cover film book that showcases Cage’s inspiration for Beyond with exclusive images from games production.
Pre-orders for the special edition will include a limited set of Beyond Two Souls themed postcards and torch, while the director’s edition will include the same postcards and torch along with an additional set of glasses.