Eurogamer Expo 2013: Beyond: Two Souls hands-on
The substantial demo for Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls (a nearly half hour slice of the game) being shown at Eurogamer Expo this year had two distinct halves, one of which was enjoyable, the other of which was tolerable. This is largely down to the fact that the game has two primary protagonists.
The face of Beyond is Jodie Holmes, portrayed by and modelled on Ellen Page. Jodie also has a supernatural sidekick/tormentor ghost called Aiden, who is the second controllable character, linked to Jodie by a strange force that manifests itself as a chain of particles.
When in control of Jodie, Beyond plays much like Heavy Rain did. You’re free to move around its environments and interact with specific objects in pre-determined ways through controller inputs designed to mimic real life actions as closely as is possible through the abstract lump of plastic that is a DualShock pad.
Where Heavy Rain explicitly signalled the inputs required to perform certain actions, however, Beyond now appears to hide some of these away, presumably in an attempt to further immerse you in a world where you need to move the right joystick upwards to open a door instead of just pressing circle (both inputs are equally arbitrary in my opinion). The biggest problem with this lack of direction is that Jodie’s controls lack consistency. There were a few motions that remained the same throughout the demo – opening doors was always up, for example – but there were also some actions that didn’t seem to have a consistent directional input.
This control issue was best exemplified in the demo’s combat sequences, the first of which saw Jodie squaring off against a large training instructor inside a gym. Here the game directs you in how to conduct combat – Jodie animates of her own free will and just before she strikes the game slows down and desaturates to black and white. If she’s punching left, it tells you to swipe the right stick left. If she’s kicking upwards, you’re told to swipe the left stick upwards, etc. It’s nice and simple, and easy to understand. Confusion set in when the demo removed these input prompts during a later sequence in which Jodie was fighting policemen on top of a moving train. It wasn’t always clear what direction I was supposed to be inputting, as many of her animations aren’t obviously going in one direction. The lack of on-screen prompts here only served to confuse the situation. It isn’t more immersive, it’s just more frustrating.
It was unclear whether signalled inputs will be an optional presence in the final version of the game, but what was clear is that the game will be worse without them.
Jodie remains as frustrating to control as any of Heavy Rain’s protagonists then. When playing as Aiden, however, Beyond becomes an entirely different game. He controls something like a transient drone, able to float in the air and pass through walls. He can only travel a limited distance away from Jodie’s body, as he’s tethered to her by some mystical leash. But what he can reach in that short distance, he can do some pretty spooky things with. Focus on a blue dot and you can push, pull, shake, or chill (if it’s a person) that focal point, unsettling people and irritating all involved.
The first appearance of Aiden occurred during the opening sequence of the demo, which begins with child Jodie locked up in what seems to be the nursery of some scientific research centre. A doctor comes to prepare her for an experiment, which involves William Dafoe testing Jodie’s psychic powers by asking her to guess what a woman in the adjacent room is doing. Jodie does this through Aiden. Here you’re able to flip over a table, crack a few windows and cause general panic. It’s simple to control and understand, quite the opposite of Jodie’s sections.
Beyond’s split identity only served to highlight just how awkward and lacking in agency Jodie’s sections are. Quantic Dream’s storytelling ambitions are admirably grandiose, and the quality of their production values shone throughout the demo. But what Beyond appears to have introduced over and above Heavy Rain – a gameplay focussed supernatural slant – feels like a half measure to address the issues many had with that title.