Beyond: Two Souls Hands On

Quantic Dream’s latest game is cinematic goodness

In 2006, a (then) little known development studio called Quantic Dream announced “Heavy Rain”, it made waves in the game industry with its grandiose cinematic design; many doubted  the concept of a truly cinematic game, however critics were silenced after the game was released. Developers Quantic Dream created a new genre, a genre that defied how we’d interact with a game. Heavy Rain became the first game to fully realize the potential of video games to be recognized as a cinematic art form. Heavy Rain became the first truly cinematic game. Quantic Dream’s next game, Beyond Two Souls seeks to top its predecessor by improving cinematic gaming as a whole and creating an even more immersive experience.

Fast forward to 2013 as we inch closer and closer to the next generation, all the hype is currently gathered around the new consoles however one could easily miss the last few hurrahs of this generation.

This is the very situation that Beyond: Two Souls faces when it releases on 8th of October. When the game was first announced last year, it was met with an insane amount of excitement from both the gaming press and community. With a recognizable cast, featuring Ellen Page and William Dafoe and a unique gameplay system where the player would play as both Jodie (Ellen Page) and the mysterious supernatural entity named Aiden – who’s tethered to Jodie’s physical body. One year after Beyond’s announcement, the game now find itself on the same release season as blockbuster  games like GTA V and Battlefield 4; with the danger of being buried under the sea of AAA releases.

Beyond tells the tale of Jodie Holmes (mo-capped and voiced by Ellen Page), who is a uniquely gifted individual with supernatural powers courtesy of a mysterious entity named Aiden. Even though Aiden is never personified (neither a voice nor a body), his abilities are very much physical; Aiden is able interact with the environment in an intimate manner, from mundane things like knocking over bottles to possessing a hostile SWAT member, Aiden is Jodie’s mysterious guardian. However, as omnipotent as Aiden sounds, he is still tethered to Jodie’s physical body – much like a spiritual umbilical cord which allows her to communicate with him. Aiden’s presence in Jodie’s life was less than helpful, feared and ever hated by her very own birth parents because of her link with Aiden – their last words to Jodie were “You’re nothing but a monster”. Nathan Dawkins (mo-capped and voiced by Willem Dafoe) a scientist for the government took Jodie in after she was “donated” to them at the age of 8 and began running tests on Jodie to explore her unique ability. Throughout the years, he became somewhat of a surrogate father to Jodie.

Beyond Two Souls Hands On Screen Shot 01

The Demo started me off in Nathan’s facility where Jodie is but a mere child and a short tutorial familiarizes us with basic navigation. Unlike the clunky and sluggish Tank-ish movement controls of Heavy Rain, movement in Beyond feels more fluid and natural – moving Jodie should feel familiar to most gamer as the left analog stick controls the view while the right would control her actual movement. After stumbling around her “room”, Jodie is led by Nathan to an empty test chamber where she was hooked up with sensors and made to go through a simple test (which involves picking the same card chosen by a middle aged lady in the next room) to assess Aiden’s abilities and her control over Aiden himself. The test also served as a short tutorial showing us Aiden’s abilities. Unlike Jodie, Aiden is controlled in first-person and as a spectral being, he could pass through solid object without much difficulty. Unfortunately, his degree of freedom was somewhat limited as Aiden could only interact with certain objects; interact-able objects are highlighted by different colored dots and covered in a hue of the corresponding color – blue usually means Aiden would interact with the highlighted object physically e.g knocking over toy blocks, Yellow means Aiden would be able to posses said character and Red would allow Aiden to physically interact with said character e.g choking him/her to death. After transitioning back and forth between Jodie and Aiden to “pass” the test, I decided to go crazy with Aiden and wreck the room that the lady was in. Despite pleas by Jodie, I continued wrecking shop and even choked the lady with my ghostly hands – there wasn’t a damn thing Jodie nor Nathan could do to stop me; after I had my fill of the carnage, I decided to let her go and return back to Jodie. The level ends with Nathan barging into the room; ensuring her that everything is over.

The next chapter flashes forward a few years later where Jodie’s now in her tweens but unlike other females her age, Jodie couldn’t just go hang out at the mall with friends; Jodie is gifted and as such, her life would reflect that fact. The level opens with Jodie surrounded by a bunch of burly men, Jodie would need to learn how to defend herself and no one’s better suited than the CIA. Combat in Beyond is handled in a very distinctive manner; instead of pushing buttons like Heavy Rain, combat is exclusively handled via the left stick. Every offensive and defensive move Jodie makes has a general direction, in order to successfully execute the move I would have to push the left stick following the direction of the move. This unique methodology to combat is kind of a mixed bag, on one hand the combat feels fluid, smooth and cinematic however pushing the left stick in the right direction could be confusing at first; Jodie would sometimes use blocks instead of dodges so I’d need to move the stick towards her assailant, however the way she telegraphs the block confused me on several occasions which resulted one too many restarts.

The final chapter of our hands-on demo started off with another flash forward but this time Jodie is no longer a weak and naive teenager, Jodie is now a young adult and for reasons that haven’t been explained she is no longer in Nathan’s CIA facility, Jodie is now a fugitive. The level started me off in Aiden’s perspective, overlooking Jodie – weary after her days on the run. After trying to wake her up by knocking over stuff near her, she got real pissed and cussed us out. After getting bored of messing around with Jodie, I decided to move around the cabin and mess with some of the other passengers, which includes knocking over a man’s coffee and dropping a bag on a sleeping passenger. After my ghostly high jinks, the train came to an unexpected stop and I moved outside to check out what’s going on. Unfortunately for Jodie, it was a police roadblock and they’re all hunting for Jodie. Still in the perspective of Aiden, I immediately flew back to Jodie and attempted to wake her up by knocking around everything around her.  After reluctantly waking up from her nap, Jodie noticed the police officers boarding the train. As much as she tried to keep a low profile, the police officers noticed Jodie and gave chase.

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Jodie worked her way through the train, moving from cabin to cabin hoping to lose her pursuers. The police finally surrounded Jodie and with no way to run, she ducked into a nearby restroom. As the police officers started to bash the door open, Jodie looked around for an escape and with the help of Aiden, Jodie managed to open an exit through the ceiling and worked her way to the top of the train. With the police hot on her heels, Jodie sprinted across the rain-slicked roof as she continued to elude her pursuers. Eventually she found herself surrounded, she could no longer run; she would need to fight. Jodie parried their blows with lightning quick parries and took them down with brutal efficiency – just like Jason Bourne.

With a seemingly inexhaustible supply of police officers, Jodie needs to get off the train and she needs to do it quick. She turned towards the side of the train and jumped out of the speeding train. The police open fired in desperation but thanks to a shield created by Aiden, she survived her seemingly suicidal leap but unfortunately for Jodie she’s not out of the woods yet, she just landed in it.

Police officers accompanied by K-9s now comb the forest looking for Jodie and she continued to elude them by running deeper and deeper into the dark and rainy forest. After fighting off police dogs and scaling a rock wall, Jodie was finally out of the woods – literally. Jodie found her ticket out, a police motorcycle was on the road ahead and it’s guarded by only 3 uniforms.

Unable to take the combative approach, I called upon Aiden’s possession ability to get me out of the predicament. Within a few moments, Aiden had control over one of the uniforms. I made the possessed officer pick up a nearby shotgun and start firing randomly in the air, leaving the other uniforms shocked and confused. Jodie took advantage of the confusion and made off with the motorcycle, riding off into the distance.

The police persisted in their pursuit but this time they pulled out all the stops which includes a helicopter. Jodie attempted to elude her pursers by swerving along the road but unfortunately for Jodie, the SWAT team had set up a roadblock in the bridge ahead; with the police hot on her heels and the SWAT roadblock ahead, there’s no where left to run. Jodie had no choice but to go through the roadblock, she rev-ed up the bike and floored it. Aiden summoned his shield to protect Jodie from the carnage of the resulting collision. She plowed through the roadblock without a hitch, unfortunately for Jodie, her bike got taken out by a sniper as soon as she entered the town. Jodie have nowhere to run, and nowhere to hide. She was surrounded on all sides in a hostile environment with the police closing in on her.

Jodie hid behind a car and it’s time for Aiden to help get her out of this jam. I was told that the extent of Aiden’s ability is tied to Jodie. Apparently, the angrier Aiden is, the more powerful he gets and the angrier Jodie gets, the angrier Aiden gets. Now, they’re both pretty pissed.

With the full extent of his powers released, Aiden can now do much more than just knock boxes and cups around. In such a target rich environment, I decided to get a little creative. I started off by possessing SWAT officers one by one for some good old blue on blue – I even threw a grenade into a crowd of my “fellow” officers. With the police still moving in onto Jodie despite the carnage, Jodie ran towards a nearby movie theater and I was able to help bust open the locked door. As she hid inside, I decided to run back out to clear out the remaining police officers.  With a helicopter hovering above the theater, I decide to take control of the helicopter pilot and smashed his chopper into the ground. Jodie’s pursuers are all either dead or dying, it’s finally over.

Beyond Two Souls Hands On Screen Shot 03

Jodie walked down the burning street, surrounded by the carnage. She picked up the SWAT commander and said “Tell them to leave me the f**k alone, because next time I’ll kill everyone” and she left.

Beyond bridges the gap between cinema and video games and the game shows it; from the cinematic set pieces to the tender moments between the title characters. To put it bluntly, I can’t wait for the game.

by Chen KangYi
© POPCulture Online 2013, All Rights Reserved.

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