Best known for its 2010 interactive thriller, Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream is easily one of the most divisive studios working in the business. Though many (including myself and other writers here at TheSixthAxis) have praised its experimental, story-driven approach to game development, others have been quick to brand the French outfit as artsy, self-indulgent, and a tad pretentious.
Whichever side of the fence you’re sitting on, to say Quantic Dream’s latest project, Beyond: Two Souls, lacks ambitious would be truly unfounded. Sporting Hollywood names such as Ellen Paige and Willem Dafoe, Two Souls offers a one-of-the-kind experience that will cement the bond between videogames and cinema for many years to come.
- We still know very little about Jodie’s spiritual companion. In the two stages we played, he could scan areas for routes and dangers as well as interact with objects. In one sequence, Jodie called upon him to dislodge a ladder in order to escape a militia warband. Whether or not he’s some sort of guardian angel or has a conscience of his own is unclear though could dramatically alter where the story goes.
However, despite being in the spotlight for over a year now, Two Souls has often come across as a little bit schizophrenic. This, of course, is simply down to how Sony and Quantic Dream have marketed the game with PR stunts and promotional material. With each passing trailer or gameplay reel we see protagonist, Jodie Holmes, in a different scenario: one minute she’s trying to evade police then, somehow, ends up delivering the baby of a homeless woman.
If that wasn’t sporadic enough, during this year’s E3 she was donning desert camo whilst infiltrating a Somali military base. Even more perplexing is the absence of Aiden, Jodie’s supernatural sidekick; despite being touted as key part of the experience, there has been very little conveyed about him or their in-game relationship.
Recently, we were able to go hands-on with Beyond: Two Souls and, as we trawled through a fairly expansive demo, the pieces of the jigsaw finally began falling into place.
Between the two stages on offer, a cohesive, overarching plot started to take form, joining together the previously-separate tid bits of gameplay we’ve been shown in the past. Without giving too much away lead heroine, Jodie, is born with supernatural powers vested in her ever-present ethereal partner, Aiden. It doesn’t take long for the secret services to catch wind of her “ability” and, over years of conditioning, they attempt to forge her into America’s first super soldier.
The demo kicks off with our protagonist navigating through the backstreets of a Somali settlement. Her objective: to dispose of a target wanted by US authorities known as Jamaal. However, instead of going in all guns blazing -something we’re accustomed to in most military-themed games- Jodie is completely unarmed and even the slightest exposure to Somali militants will result in death.
With Dualshock 3 in hand waiting for the demo to load, it was hard not to bring up memories of Heavy Rain and how, despite its numerous highlights, felt archaic and clunky. In truth, Two Souls hasn’t completely addressed this issue, though it’s a huge improvement. Quantic Dream has subbed its previous control scheme for something much more akin to a modern action game with one stick used to move and the other to spin the camera. It handles much more fluidly yet Jodie’s animations are clumsy and don’t quite match up.
One thing players will immediately notice is how big some of the environments are in Two Souls. Although some sections are incredibly linear, others allow the player to explore and interact with their surroundings. This sense of freedom is expanded even further when playing as Aiden. By pressing triangle, you can switch freely between Jodie and her companion (when able) who can fly over terrain and through walls in order to scout the path ahead. From a first person perspective he can locate key personnel, manipulate objects and even possess other humans.
“…a perfect send-off for the PlayStation 3.”
It’s this latter skill that comes particularly in handy when attempting to assassinate Jamaal. Ducking for cover and keeping a safe distance, Jodie is able to guide Aiden into the base, occupy one of the guards and spray an entire room with lead before the host is gunned down. It’s a quick, efficient process that looks and plays well, demonstrating just how powerful our heroine truly is.
Though she may have two souls Jodie still has one heart, weighed down by the consequences of what she’s forced to do for her country. Sneaking through the pandemonium, she moves in closer to confirm the kill only to find a young boy sobbing next to the body of his father, the gunman Jodie has used as a conduit. It’s moments like these that will ultimately define her character, torn between a sense of duty and morality.
Beyond: Two Souls isn’t completely unfamiliar yet does enough to set itself apart from every other major release this year. Combining exploration, clever QTEs, and Aiden’s puzzle-like gameplay sections, wherever it takes us, Two Souls is looking to be an absolute thrill ride and a perfect send-off for the PlayStation 3.