David Cage is, as you might expect, passionate about Beyond: Two Souls. He speaks with conviction about the game, distancing the engine, the gameplay and the visuals from Heavy Rain with some frequency. He’s right to, of course, Beyond is a clear step ahead of Quantic Dream’s last game – it’s more fluid to play, it looks better, and it comes with a cast that really sets it apart.
Ellen Page is a perfect fit, for example, her vocal work exemplary, easily up there with Naughty Dog’s The Last Of Us in terms of delivery and focus, if not perhaps quite in the same class with regards to the screenplay and writing. The build offered up at E3 is limited and limiting, mind, a Somalian hunt-to-kill mission hardly the best spot for some in-depth discussion amongst key characters.
What it does do, though, is demonstrate Beyond’s ability to shift gears and change direction with ease, the dusty streets and ruined buildings as far away from anything else we’ve seen of the game as possible. As a CIA agent, Page’s Jodie Holmes is strikingly able and adept, her singular task (to take out a known terrorist) enough to showcase Beyond’s faster paced elements whilst also highlighting Cage’s “every level is different” ethos.
The game’s director and writer tells me that each scene has its own distinct style and is very much unique, and this section does look and feel unlike the other snippets we’ve seen in earlier demonstrations. It’s fraught with danger, for example, networks of soldiers patrol the streets and the tension is palpable through the thirty minutes or so that the demo build lasts for.
Alongside Jodie is the mysterious Aiden. Essentially a ghost – invisible and able to fly freely of Jodie, at will – Aiden is an unknown element but one that has been with the game’s lead for years. Jodie’s companion is both protective and possessive, friendly and violent, depending on the current situation, an interesting notion that Cage tells me has robbed Jodie of a youth, unable to shake the spirit from her life.
Players can switch from Jodie to Aiden at any time (via the Triangle button) and Aiden’s ability to possess enemies (or kill them outright) presents a number of varied situational decision points. The level on offer has a natural flow and certain elements will always happen, but the choices you make along the way will affect how some parts of the level play out.
Cage claims that entire levels can be ended in different ways, allowing for long-term persistent effects, although such a lofty claim couldn’t be proven in the short time we had with the game.
Visually the game is impressive, with Cage saying the engine “pushes the PS3 as hard as it can” and the way the game streams all the textures off the disk means that there’s huge amounts of variety in the environment. The demo build showed some texture loading issues, but they’ll be sorted for launch, apparently.
Jodie’s animation, both facially and in terms of how she moves and reacts to what’s around her, is impressive. The movement is much more fluid (compared with Heavy Rain at least) and that comes across as more natural, human-like behaviour, helped massively by the revised controls that have thankfully replaced the tank-like movement seen in Cage’s last game.
Combat is interesting – it attempts to dispense with on-screen prompts (although there are still plenty) during actual battles, the player left to push the left stick in certain directions that pre-empt Jodie’s close-quarter fighting techniques. For example, if someone is trying to stab you, you’ll need to push the stick towards your opponent rather than away, because that’s what Jodie will do.
The level featured offered plenty of action, but Beyond will continually attempt to project the fact that Cage is aiming at telling a story filled with emotion rather than bullets, and the ending of the mission (which we’ll not spoil) certainly echoes that ideal. From what we’ve seen Beyond is a smart, expansive thriller with stacks of ambition and a very capable graphics engine.
David Cage told TheSixthAxis that the game would last around ten hours, and given the cinematic way it’s presented that sounds like more than enough. Clearly aimed at providing an experience that is as much like that of a blockbuster movie as a traditional game, Quantic Dream may well have another hit on their hands. Their mastery of the PS3 continues, let’s just hope the story and gameplay match up.