Beyond: Two Souls is the latest interactive-storytelling-experience from David Cage and his studio, Quantic Dream, and is set for release this October for PS3. At a closed-door event in Dublin recently I got some hands-on-time with it and got to see for myself just what Cage and co. have in store for us in their first game since 2010s Heavy Rain.
Beyond proposes to explore the concept of the afterlife and what happens to us when we pass on through the life of one Jodie Holmes, played by Ellen Page. Through the course of the game we’ll see Jodie at three different stages of her life, 8, 15 and 23, as she tries to understand and cope with the struggles that come from being tethered to a ghostly entity named Aiden whom she has been accompanied by as long as she can remember.
The two sections I got to play through were, unsurprisingly, delivered out of context and although it wasn’t exactly clear what was going on at times, the demos were substantial in other ways. The first sequence, entitled ‘The Experiment’, brought us to Jodie at the age of 8. The scene opens on what appears to be a nursery, an illusion shattered by the appearance of a man in a long white lab coat who informs Jodie, rather ominously, that “It’s time”. As Jodie, I was ushered through the hallways of what had been revealed to be some sort of medical institute and into a room with a desk and some nursery style flash cards. Later I would learn that I had the option of making the doctor’s life a little more difficult by protesting before following him. I guess I’m a sucker for men of authority.
Suddenly, Willem Dafoe appears and explains that this experiment is going to help them determine just how powerful Jodie’s psychic abilities are. In the adjacent room sits a woman with the same flash cards. When she holds one up, Jodie will be expected to point to the corresponding card in her room. To do this she’ll need help from Aiden.
As the woman in the next room holds up a card, a prompt in Jodie’s room instructs the player to press triangle to release Aiden. Suddenly the camera pivots to a first person perspective and we are in control of Aiden complete with ghostly transparency. By traveling through the wall and peeking over the woman’s shoulder, Aiden was able to see her card and report back to Jodie who is then asked to select it for the doctors. All of this is player controlled and as Aiden you also have the ability to travel to most other rooms and interact with most objects in them. The signal does weaken the further you are from Jodie though, presumably encouraging players not to fuck around too much. After a few successful rounds, Aiden gets inexplicably pissed off and I was prompted to scare the woman by flipping the table and shoving her against the wall. At this point, Willem Dafoe and his colleagues intervened and ended the experiment.
Before jumping into the next demo, the game brought me to a gym where Jodie, now much older, was going through some kickboxing training. This was Beyond‘s way of teaching me the basics of its combat. During a fight, your opponent will confront you in slow motion giving you the chance to flick the analog stick in the direction of their attack to block or counter. Combat has never really been a priority for David Cage and although Beyond is more action oriented than Heavy Rain, that fact hasn’t really changed.
The second sequence, ‘The Hunt’, began on a train. As Aiden I was able to hover up and down the side of the carriages peeking in at the passengers and, if I was so inclined, bothering them. After poking around for a bit, I returned to Jodie, still older but now a little worse for wear, just as the train was boarded by some police officers who, it would turn out, were looking for her. My attempt to skulk away was unsuccessful and a chase quickly ensued which looked and played much like the chase sequences in Heavy Rain; fast-paced and littered with quick time events. At one point I was offered the chance to jump out the window. I didn’t get out in time and instead had to escape onto the roof of the train where the officers followed and the pursuit continued.
At this point, a fellow journalist peered over my shoulder and couldn’t contain his surprise. I was in the middle of what turned out to be a lengthy and unpredictable rooftop chase scene which he, despite having finished this demo earlier in the evening, hadn’t seen. Turns out his attempt to escape through the window had been successful and he had ended up in the forest. Several minutes and several quick-time-events later, I ended up there too. After a brief stint being chased by dogs, the demo ended.
Beyond is clearly a game infested with divergent paths. This was something the games producer, Guilliame de Fondaumiere, was keen to emphasize during our interview (which you can expect to read here on The-Arcade later in the week) and having watched a room full of people experience the same two sequences in alarmingly different ways it’s hard not to be won over by it. Visually, Cage has dialed his obsession with photo-realism up to eleven and while Page and Dafoe appear to be firing on all cylinders, it’s difficult not to get distracted by just how perilously the whole thing dangles over the uncanny valley. Presentation appears to be top notch, as expected, and with Normand Corbeil, Lorne Balfe and Hollywood-Heavyweight Hans Zimmer all working on the score, Quantic Dream have certainly spared no expense in bringing this interactive storytelling experience into the world. We’ll just have to wait and see if that story was worth it when Beyond: Two Souls releases exclusively for PS3 on the 8th of October.