published on September 7, 2012|
Beyond: Two Souls is French studio Quantic Dream's follow-up to 2010 murder mystery Heavy Rain. An ambitious cinematic thriller, it's being written and directed by studio co-founder David Cage, who has said he wants to create a unique emotional journey that prioritises meaning over fun and challenges the mind rather than the player's thumbs.
Set across a period of 15 years, it follows the journey of protagonist Jodie Holmes from an innocent young girl to an angsty teenager who's on the run from government agents. Jodie, who's portrayed by Hollywood actress Ellen Page, is accompanied throughout by a spectral presence named Aiden, who the player intermittently controls.
Quite what the ghostly figure of Aiden is hasn't been revealed, presumably because his nature is wrapped up in Beyond's overarching theme of what lies beyond death, but he's been with Jodie since birth, and is a character in his own right. Powerful, protective and prone to fits of jealousy, he can be used to scout ahead, listen in on conversations, and to protect Jodie using telekinesis, telepathy and possession.
Visible only to the player and Jodie, Aiden's presented as a glowing stream of particles reaching into the screen that looks a bit like a watery snake. Sometimes he's released by a particular event in the game, while at other times you'll get to choose whether or not to call on his supernatural assistance.
Aiden's range of powers has been displayed in a thrilling gameplay demo, which shows Jodie first being chased from the roof of a rain swept train, then through a dark forest, before being cornered by a group of SWAT officers, who she/Aiden proceeds to pick off in a Carrie-like culmination of psychic violence.
Freedom of choice
People and objects Aiden can interact with glow, and the colour of the aura around humans indicates whether players can attack or even possess them. The gameplay demo shows Aiden flitting between SWAT men, using one to create a diversion by smashing his patrol car into a colleague's, then using a sniper to despatch two more, and forcing another to toss a grenade at friendlies.
According to game director Cage, what we've seen in the demo is just one version of a scene that can be played in many different ways with multiple outcomes. That's true of most of the game, he claims. This element of player choice will be familiar to players of Heavy Rain, as will the use of on-screen button prompts that must be followed quickly and accurately in order to successfully progress the action down a chosen path.
Although it was widely acclaimed, Heavy Rain received criticism in some quarters for having the feel of an interactive movie rather than that of a pure, traditional game. Cage has said Beyond will offer players greater control of character movement, particularly during chases and fights, but until we actually get hold of the pad for ourselves, how that freedom translates into gameplay remains to be seen.
We still have plenty of unanswered questions regarding the gameplay and the path the story will take, but what is patently clear is that, once again, Quantic Dream's latest game stands out in a market dominated by military first person shooters and cover-based third person action games. It's as thought-provoking as it is stunning to look at in motion, and we can't wait to take our next glimpse at it.