It’s two-and-a-half years since David Cage, Quantic Dream’s enigmatic creative director, released his vision of videogaming’s future in the tangled web of interface-meets-storyline that was Heavy Rain. A game only really comparable to his previous title, Fahrenheit, due to the unique manner in which narrative and choice were married together.
Fahrenheit’s system of scene analysis, multiple playable characters, film-like camera angles, quick-time events (QTEs) and branching storyline – which progressed differently depending on both your decisions and performance – saw the game win many fans; despite a few bum notes, chief culprit of which was a poorly implemented sneaking system.
Heavy Rain was Cage’s largely successful attempt to hone his gameplay methodology and couple it with graphics which still stand-up as some of the best in the current generation, as he looked to blend interactivity with the atmosphere and intrigue of the best film noir Hollywood has to offer.
In came a more complex QTE system, an even deeper storyline and visually-driven emotion, though, again, some argued that by its end the game took one twist too far, eventually falling over its own convoluted steps; while its insistence on having us micromanage each character’s movements had others questioning whether it was game at all.
Don’t expect Beyond: Two Souls to clear up that last point, Cage telling us that his latest falls into ‘no clear genre across games or film,’ as he demoed the game at this year’s E3. Perhaps the hiring of actress, Ellen Page (Juno), to act and voice the role of the game’s main character, confirms Cage’s willingness to blur the lines between both industries; a goal further enhanced by the new engine, which betters the looks of even Heavy Rain.
What may, however, be inferred from the behind closed doors demo that followed was that we can expect a more focused, driven narrative this time around, as we participate in the exploits of just two protagonists: Jodie Holmes, whose life we follow over 15 years from childhood to adulthood, and her ghostly and invisible sentinel, Aiden, whose presence is all too real, but whose motives remain as ethereal as her (at least Cage refers to Aiden as ‘her’) appearance.
The irrevocable damage to a childhood spent under the gaze of a paranormal guard dog is obvious, especially if you consider that Aiden is no pure of heart guardian angel, but rather a being ‘who can be very nice, but very jealous and violent too,’ as Cage puts it. Would-be boyfriends, it seems, need not apply.
Jodie’s angst through her teenage years is therefore understandable, but as she moves into adulthood – and Aiden’s power grows with her – she soon has more reason for anxiety as police, and more sinister government agencies, try to track her down in a bid to harness and exploit his power. So begins the manhunt which is to take up much of Jodie’s adult life, and here is where the demonstration began: with Jodie in her early twenties, being pursued across backwater America.
Opening with a sleeping Jodie on board a train, we’re immediately shown what controlling Aiden is like as, from a first-person perspective, Cage drifts Aiden up and down the carriageway via SixAxis motion control, interacting with objects in an attempt to rouse a sleeping Jodie – behaviour immediately reminiscent of that of a bored 10-year-old.
A psychic tether, represented on screen as a spiralling blue rope, between Ellen and Aiden ensures our ghostly compadre can’t drift too far – while handily keeping the programmers’ job just that little bit easier – while the various and multi-coloured auras which surround Jodie’s fellow passengers help indicate exactly how Aiden might be able to interact with them, or even possess them.
An unscheduled stop, at which police board their train, switches Aiden’s mood from playful to panicked, and so begins a chase sequence which first sees Jodie leaping from the top of the moving locomotive with the assistance of an energy shield placed around her by her protector, before she’s on the run through dense woodland with the FBI hot on her heels.
At this juncture Cage is keen to point out just how more open Beyond’s environments are when compared to those within his previous, explaining how the player can guide Jodie away from the lights and sirens of police cars in a variety of directions, what he’s calls an ‘organic’ scene. Some players might even find themselves caught by the police and so facing an entirely different interrogation sequence.
Inevitably the manpower afforded the police allows them to catch-up their target, and it’s here where proceedings take a turn for the ugly with the trapped and frightened Jodie letting Aiden off the leash. Death quickly follows with Aiden interacting with inanimate objects and possessing SWAT team members with deadly results.
In gameplay terms the sequence is a sandbox of sorts, with Aiden, or rather the player, able to wreak havoc in any order, pulling the strings of armed police – to turn them against their own – or setting off chains of destruction which culminate in some mightily impressive pyrotechnics.
Worth the wait? Once the final confrontation is over both SWAT and FBI are left fleeing for their lives in the wake of Jodie’s, or more accurately Aiden’s awesome power. They’ve begun to understand just what they’re dealing with, and I start to think I’ve reached the same conclusion – the demonstrated section seeming showcasing a game that offers a more streamlined and set-piece motivated structure, than say Heavy Rain did.
The thing is, no sooner have I begun to think I’ve got a handle on things, than Cage drops the bombshell that the chase scene is the ‘only scene of its type in the game,’ and given this is a game that deals with 15 years of Jodie’s life, perhaps I’m none the wiser after all. No matter, judging from the sheer pride Cage shows while talking about his latest, Beyond is in safe hands.
Developer: Quantic Dream
When? Q1/Q2 2013