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Beyond: Two Souls – Cage unveils opus in Paris

Thursday, 21st March 2013 14:00 GMT By Patrick Garratt

Beyond: Two Souls will take David Cage’s narrative vision to the next level in October. Patrick Garratt visits Quantic Dream in Paris to go hands-on and see brand new gameplay sections demoed.

Beyond: Two Souls is a very impressive video game, and probably the most exciting current-gen prospect. The wait for October promises to be excruciating.

David Cage doesn’t want us to spoil Beyond: Two Souls. Speaking to journalists at Quantic Dream in Paris yesterday, the writer and director took the time to tell us so. We could “do what we want,” obviously, but a factual run-through of what we saw would be “boring” to you, the reader, according to the Frenchman. He wants us, as writers, to focus on the emotional impact of the presentation and our brief play session.

David knows best.

We saw a long series of demos yesterday, the star element of which was a sequence called Homeless. It appeared to be a full level and lasted about 45 minutes. It certainly was emotional (we heard that word a lot yesterday), but we’ll go into that later. We then got to play a small section set in a hospital. This wasn’t particularly tear-jerking, but the whole point was just to show how the controls work. We weren’t even allowed to wear headphones during the first part of the playable demo because some of the dialogue gave away spoilers.

Some quick background. Beyond: Two Souls is Quantic Dream’s latest PlayStation 3 game. It’s out this October. David Cage has written the script. The French studio is known most recently for creating Heavy Rain, an innovative serial killer thriller which successfully blurred the line between “game” and “movie”. Beyond follows Jodie from childhood to womanhood over a story spanning 15 years. Jodie, played by Ellen Page, is joined to a poltergeist-like “entity” called Aiden by an ethereal cord, and it’s this partnership which forms the basis of Beyond’s play mechanics. The player controls both Jodie and Aiden. Willem Dafoe plays Nathan Dawkins, a government scientist who becomes a father figure to Jodie after experimenting on the supernatural elements surrounding her.

All set? Sensational. Here’s some new and absolutely emotionless facts before we get into the playable sections.

Cage constantly called Aiden a “ghost” in his presentation, but when I spoke to him later he wouldn’t elaborate on the plot at all. He said Beyond is a story about “growing,” “how events in our life make us who we are,” about “life, death, what’s on the other side.” The plot is “told in chronological disorder,” with the player being fed information out of logical sequence. You have to “rebuild the story” to find out what happens, and you sometimes see effects before causes. You can’t “watch passively” as the story is told, Cage said.

There are 40 versions of Jodie, ranging from a small child to a grown woman. Cage showed a set of images of her growth in a slide, and her homeless guise was second-to-last, the final picture being Jodie with no hair. Dafoe, too, ages throughout.

Cage has done away with Quick Time Events, a mechanic which bore much of the weight in Heavy Rain. Beyond’s combat is based on a bullet time-type system controlled only with the right analogue stick. If someone’s swinging a baseball bat at you, you just move the stick in the appropriate direction to block it. Cage showed us a training sequence in which Jodie is sparring against a man in a gym. We didn’t get to test the combat in the play session, but, as with everything else in the game, it looks completely contextual.

You can hear Cage explaining the QTE stuff below.

Beyond’s engine is new. It isn’t based on Heavy Rain’s tech. Some elements are based on Quantic Dream’s PlayStation 4 work, so depth of field, for example, is improved over Heavy Rain.

Here’s Cage talking about Beyond’s engine, including details of the PS4 features.

Beyond will take place across multiple locations and will last some 12-15 hours, according to Caroline Marchal. We saw a video showing Jodie in what looked to be an American wild west setting, skiing through a blizzard, and so on. Vehicles are drivable in places, and you get to ride horses and m0t0rb1k3s.

What Beyond is like to play

As I said earlier, the section we got to play was just designed to show us the controls. It was set in a hospital. I won’t talk about the plot elements at all. On a purely mechanical level, this is what it’s like to play Beyond.

You move Jodie with the left stick. You push it forwards and she walks in third-person, looking around her as she goes. The general UI is different from Heavy Rain’s. If Jodie is able to interact with an object, a small white circle appears next to it. You then move the right stick in the direction of the circle to complete an action. This could be getting up, crouching down, searching or whatever else.

The one thing that stuck out from my short time playing is how much you use Aiden, the ghost, who is accessed by pressing the triangle button. When you switch over to Jodie’s spooky friend, the controls become first-person in a traditional twin-stick format. The R1 and R2 buttons are used to raise and lower the camera. Aiden can fly through walls, hit objects and show Jodie flashback sequences based on the aura of corpses. This forms the basis of a great deal of the progression we saw.

To give an example. At one point Jodie needs to use a lift, but it’s stuck a few floors below. You need to switch to Aiden, fly into the lift shaft and through the roof of the lift, then move a cabinet to unblock the door. You do this by positioning yourself in front of the cupboard, at which point a white circle appears to tell you Aiden can interact with it. You pull the analogue sticks down and apart from each other, then let them go in a sort of catapult motion. This smacks the cabinet out of the way and the lift rises.

In this section we saw two other ways Aiden can interact with the environment. He can turn things on and off by moving the sticks in towards the circle of light instead of away. He can also do this with corpses, catching some of their aura and then moving it to Jodie’s head to show her a sequence of a usually grisly death.

Here’s how it can all come together. Jodie uses Aiden to watch a flashback of a dead person in the hospital, and this sequence shows the location of a fire extinguisher. All the rooms around her are burning. Aiden then flies through the flames to the fire extinguisher, turns back towards Jodie and does the catapult move to knock it back through the fire to her feet. You then switch back into Jodie, move the right stick towards the white circle next to the extinguisher, pick it up and put out part of the fire to progress.

Quantic described the state of the code as “between alpha and beta,” but there’s no doubting it works. Switching between the two characters became natural quickly, but needed to be explained by the producers on hand at first. It’s impossible to draw any conclusions from what we saw, to be honest. As I said, it was just to give us a quick feel of how play pans out. You can watch some of these sequences below.

Hands-off demos

We saw three hands-off demos. The first was Jodie being tested in a lab, and the second showed combat. The third was a large section called Homeless, which featured Jodie as a young adult. Here comes the emotion. Tissues at the ready.

The test section is about Jodie being held at a facility and using Aiden to tell the scientists which card another woman is holding up in an adjoining room. Jodie’s very young – she’s eight years old, apparently – and comes across as surly. For the record, the acting animations on both the child and the adults are incredible. I have three children and Jodie is immediately obvious as an unhappy infant. The way she doesn’t respond easily, the way she moves her mouth: it’s quite freaky.

Aiden turned the entire sequence from something melancholic into straight horror. The woman in the other room started to panic when he knocked over some blocks and really started freaking out when Aiden knocked over a table and started hitting the windows. Her aura turned red in the version we saw, and Aiden started to choke her. He also possessed one of the lab assistants, which gave the player control of him. If we’re talking about emotions, it definitely was quite nerve-wracking to watch, and the strength of the characterisations and motion capture was amazing. It engaged me because the reactions of the people involved were believable. Making a ghost story actually frightening is incredibly difficult in any medium, but Cage appears to have managed it.

You can watch parts of this sequence below.

The second demo showed off Beyond’s combat. Quantic Dream has done away with QTEs in the fights, and has instead employed a system of stick movements and bullet-time. Jodie was sparring with a partner in the gym is the segment we saw, and every time he tried to hit her his strike slowed down, giving the player enough time to counter it by moving the right stick. Every action is controlled in this way. If you compare it to the combat in Heavy Rain, in which everything was controlled by a blatantly obvious QTE press, it’s easy to see how Quantic’s built on previous work by refining. It looks good, no doubt. We weren’t allowed to test the combat.

Take a look for yourself.

By far the most significant section we were shown was the Homeless level, a long sequence which contained a string of emotional sucker punches culminating in a death. It included homelessness (obviously), pregnancy, an interactive birth sequence, parental worry, desperation, hunger, fear, pain, violence, suicide, camaraderie, hope, elation, horror, cold, warmth and sadness. It was affecting. I prickled when Cage asked us to not describe this sequence in detail – it was, after all, yesterday’s main event – but he was absolutely right. You should play this for yourself. You can see some of it in the screens below.

Let me put it this way. At one point in this presentation I literally had tears in my eyes. When it finished, everyone clapped. The only people in the room were journalists. I’ve been to this type of event many, many times, and can’t remember another occasion when a game demo was actually applauded. It felt as though we’d seen something new.

Beyond may stretch “reality” somewhat (anyone who’s witnessed a birth may be wondering what happened to all the blood), but that isn’t the point. Cage and his team took the entire notion of narrative to a new level with Heavy Rain, and this latest project appears to have trumped Quantic’s previous work in every department. Beyond: Two Souls is a very impressive video game, and probably the most exciting current-gen prospect. The wait for October promises to be excruciating.

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17 Comments

  1. DGOJG

    Looks incredible, really looking forward to this game. ‘Heavy Rain’ was definitely one of my favourite games of this generation and I’m glad Sony have helped Quantic Dream to carry on creating more inventive experiences like this.

    #1 1 year ago
  2. gtvdave

    Thanks for the coverage guys, but what’s up with the frame rate of these videos? It’s way down, around 15fps.

    #2 1 year ago
  3. Erthazus

    I think this looks fantastic.

    but videos in 15 or 20 frames per second (unless it’s a true PS3 quality LOL) Heeavy Rain had issues with frme rates too.

    #3 1 year ago
  4. gtvdave

    I don’t believe the framerate of these videos reflect the framerate of the game. The intro itself at the beginning of each video is 15fps as well. They must have been rendered with wrong output framerate during compression.

    #4 1 year ago
  5. Erthazus

    of course these videos don’t reflect the game’s FPS. That was just my sarcasm, although Heavy Rain really had some issues with frame rate.

    P.S. the video where you can control things is actually innovative and it makes a lot of sense for this game.

    #5 1 year ago
  6. Sam Clay

    Hey chaps.

    The frame-rates have nothing to do with the quality of the PS3, it’s the outputs we’ve had for these edits – they went a bit weird it would seem =/

    I’ll upload some 30fps ones to keep everyone happy…

    #6 1 year ago
  7. Dragon246

    Man, this looks great!
    Hopefully this surpasses Heavy Rain in every department, including sales. Something truly new this late in gen is really refreshing.

    @Pat,
    Kudos man. Keep up the work of putting these preview things out of the gate ASAP. Most sites don’t have anything up.

    #7 1 year ago
  8. redwood

    they can get THIS sort of shit on an a PS3? it effin’ gamaing.. and say what you can about david cage but the dude loves games and loves to innovate.. and the part that i love the most about quantic dreams is they don’t whine about “loosing money” by making games that are too innovative, and lets be honest, quantic dreams games really arn’t everyone ‘s cup of tea. But they are still marching ahead, looking forward to this AND singualarity.

    #8 1 year ago
  9. Sam Clay

    Lab Gameplay – http://youtu.be/3ac_zjAY0SY
    Combat Gameplay – http://youtu.be/B9r62oqGRXg
    Hospital Gameplay – http://youtu.be/4nbjm917B7o

    Enjoy!

    #9 1 year ago
  10. monkeygourmet

    first gen PS4 is going to be a baby step compared to last gen PS3 / 360 titles…

    You can see why devs wanted more time with the old hardware if they can still squeeze out games like Halo 4, GOW 3 etc…

    Even Killzone 4 looked pretty similar to 3 at a glance. Another reason I haven’t quite taken the plunge with PC stuff.

    People say you can make a PC that shits all over 360 / PS3 for £350, but it’s such a small jump that i’ve yet to see the point.

    I am most interested in how things like Metroid Wii U will stack up against something like Killzone 4 / Halo 5…

    The Wii U is struggling because there is soooo much good stuff coming out on PS3 / 360 still:

    Last of Us
    New God of War
    Beyond: Two Souls
    Puppeteer
    Destiny
    Bioshock Infinate
    Tomb Raider
    Gears of War 3.5

    There’s going to be alot of ports come PS4 / 720 launch I bet, I can’t wait to see Nintendo / Retro’s efforts on Wii U arriving at the same time to do battle! :)

    @Topic

    Game looks great! :)

    #10 1 year ago
  11. No_PUDding

    m0t0rb1k3s?

    In joke?

    #11 1 year ago
  12. manamana

    Gorgeous – pre-ordered already.

    #12 1 year ago
  13. harr0w

    what’s so innovative its one long QTE. dragons lair was doing this shit in 1983. Granted it pretty for consoles but that doesnt say much when you have 90% of the control removed, style over substance. I bet David Cage loves nothing better than arguing the tired debate of “are video games art” whilst chewing on his horse infused croissant and slurping down a glass of Château Liversan Haut-Medoc the big french tart. just my opinion

    #13 1 year ago
  14. ActionGameKing

    Been reading this article all day, I’m completely excited for this game now!

    #14 1 year ago
  15. DeyDoDoughDontDeyDough

    While I don’t quite agree with #13, control seems wrestled away from the player a HELL of a lot. I’m with Ken Levine on this: every time you take away control, you’ve just lost the prize for good game design. I KNOW I’m not going to like this game. Cage’s cliche platitudes on the human condition make me ill, not sad. It’s like reading fan-fic; a pale imitation of quality storytelling.

    Further, there’s just no agency here. Show me one moment in any of these videos where the player has a choice. Any choice. Seems to me the game is just waiting around for you to do what it wants you to do. I play creatively, so I’ll stick with BioShock Infinite, thanks.

    #15 1 year ago
  16. mojo

    that looks fantastic.
    Realy realy looking forward for this!

    #16 1 year ago
  17. Kuwabara

    @3 Wow, really Erth, it looks fantastic does it? Yet the prospect of next gen games on PS4 do not seem fantastic to you because it can’t measure up to a pc..

    #17 1 year ago

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