E3 2012: Beyond: Two Souls delivers on action and intrigue, David Cage walks us through a gameplay demo

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Beyond: Two Souls is the new title from Quantic Dream, the development studio that brought us the thought provoking and emotionally tolling Heavy Rain. The game was announced during Sony’s E3 press conference and will once again be exclusive to the PS3 when it launches in 2013.

We were lucky enough to attend a presentation given by David Cage at the E3 event yesterday. Cage is the founder and co-CEO of Quantic Dream and the driving force behind the innovation being delivered by the studio. He is also the director, game designer and screen writer for Beyond, and we got the opportunity to see a glimpse into his vision as he walked us through a section of the game and answered questions during a brief Q & A session.

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Cage began by discussing the context of the game, explaining how Beyond is a story of a girl called Jodie Holmes who shares a link with an invisible entity known as Aiden. We don’t quite know what Aiden is, other than he is a presence of sorts ‒ he could be a ghost, he could be a spirit but we’re not quite sure yet. The story follows Jodie and Aiden through 15 years of her life, so we’ll get to know Jodie as a young girl, teenager and as an adult. We’ll get to see how she grows, how she evolves and how she accepts who she is. Aiden is also a character of the game, and we’ll get to see how he can be protective of Jodie but also how he can be jealous and angry too.
The game features a number of themes according to Cage, from growing and accepting who you are to death, separation and mourning too. Aiden lives between two worlds, this world and the next, and Jodie must discover more about what lies Beyond:

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He continued to explain how Beyond builds on Heavy Rain, that it’s not a totally separate game but has evolved and integrated more with the action. Players will now have direct control of both Jodie and Aiden as an entity, each with a set of specific controls. The game is due in 2013 and so the gameplay we saw was work in progress. He warned us that we might see bugs, but we never saw anything that didn’t look completely incredible. Beyond is running on a new engine, one that has been started from scratch, with Quantic Dream working on the lighting, depth of field and performance capture.

The gameplay demo kicked off with Jodie on a train, she is 23 and a fugitive. Law enforcement is searching for her because of her ‘special powers’ and she’s on the run. It’s raining outside, we’re in control of Aiden who is trying to rouse Jodie from her sleep. She’s not too keen about being disturbed though and tells him that she’s tired, hasn’t slept for three days and that he should back off. Put off for the moment, Aiden heads off to interact with a few guests on the train. He’s an invisible entity and as such can move through objects and interact with them, however, his link to Jodie limits him and he can’t go too far because he is tied to her in a way.

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You control Aiden with the SixAxis controller, tilting it left and right to control his direction. This creates a sense of inertia which adds to the feeling of him being a ghost. Sometimes it switches automatically to Aiden, but you can also specifically control him. Using the two analogue sticks of the controller you can charge a blast and make objects move. He dislodges a passenger’s coffee cup in this way, confusing the poor chap who can’t see Aiden and doesn’t understand what’s happening so just picks it up from where it landed on the floor and carries on. Only Jodie can hear Aiden and only she can understand him, this was inspired by homeless people who often talk to themselves and Cage thinking what if they were actually talking to someone, just someone we can’t see, someone who is invisible.

Aiden can also go outside the train, and as he does so we pass into the rain which is pouring down and get an up close view of the trees passing by. There’s an unexpected stop on the train route coming up, and we see the Sherrifs men waiting for the train to stop. They’re looking for Jodie. Aiden goes to investigate, but if he strays too far from Jodie it becomes blurry because of their link. While the police can’t detect Aiden’s presence, dogs can and the police dog on duty barks as Aiden approaches. You’ll notice the aura surrounding the officers, which will become important very soon.

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The police board the train and it continues on its way. Aiden tries to wake Jodie, but she’s still not interested and he drops a bag on her head to show her he means business. She wakes up and sees the police approaching. We’re now in control of Jodie ‒ she turns to move away but is spotted by the police and begins to run. We must now use left and right analogue sticks to open the interleading carriage doors of the train, there’s a sense of urgency as the police are chasing close behind. She ducks to avoid a nightstick, her direction and actions all controlled by the player. Inside the toilet now she tries to open the door to the roof, but has to call Aiden for help to blast it open. We switch to Aiden to do so and climb out onto the roof. Jodie is now running on the roof of the train, towards the camera, as rain pelts down and trees whip past on either side. The police follow her out onto the roof and she’s forced to fight them, avoiding their attacks and retaliating through a series of movements on the controller, including left and right on the analogue sticks, shaking and the bumper buttons.

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Soon she’s surrounded and makes the decision to jump. As she jumps off the moving train you can see just how hurt she’s got, with bleeding cuts on her face. Aiden creates a shield around her to protect her ‒ Cage highlights how this in not a cut-scene, the player is in control of everything. Quantic Dream have focused on making Jodie’s moves more organic, there are no loops, no cycle but rather different animations which result in a smooth, realistic movement.

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A helicopter’s searchlight is checking the area and you can hear the dogs chasing her. She quickly sets off into the forest, jumping over trees and ducking under branches in an effort to escape her pursuers. She wades into a river, and we push her forward through the fast-flowing water by alternating the R1 and L1 buttons. She becomes lost in the forest, and you get a real sense of her desperation to escape as the dog’s barking gets nearer. Cage highlights the fact that they played with the depth of field in this area in an attempt to make the forest feel realistic and organic. Jodie is cornered as dogs enter the scene, she breaks a stick off a tree and hits them as they attack. They’re brutally vicious, and you’ll find yourself grimacing as they attack her again and again while she tries to fend them off with her stick. Eventually one pins her down, and you must press X, then rotate the analogue stick, and then press R1 to try get them off her. Eventually she succeeds and the dogs run away, whimpering as they retreat.

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She’s on the run again and manages to scramble up some rocky cliffs. The police search the area, and there’s a few nervous moments when you think she’ll be discovered, but they move on and we head towards the road. Unfortunately the road is blocked with police cars, and Jodie calls on Aiden to help her get through this barricade. He moves towards the policeman with the orange aura, a sign that he can be possessed. As Aiden possesses him you’ll notice his eyes turn white and we’re now in control of the policeman. We head towards the police car, open the door using the analogue stick and then start the car and change gear using motion controls too. You drive the car back and forth into the road barricade, confusing the other two policemen on duty and creating enough of a diversion for Jodie to jump on the motorbike and race off.

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Using the SixAxis we control Jodie on the bike, it looks a little difficult to keep it on the road, particularly around corners but when we hit a barricade it just pushes it back onto the road. We discover just how relentless the police are as they hover overhead in a helicopter, tracking her every move. She sees the bridge is blocked, but revs the engine and drives towards the SWAT teams. Aiden shields her as she does so, to protect her from the flying bullets. She heads towards a small town, but crashes and is soon surrounded on every corner. Feeling trapped she asks Aiden to help her, he’s like her guardian angel and will protect her no matter what.

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Aiden moves towards a Sniper on the top of a building, he possesses him and then shoots the other SWAT team member. He moves towards the streetlight which he blows up to plunge the street into darkness. Next he possesses the truck driver and crashes it into a petrol bowser, blowing up a large section of the street and bringing numerous SWAT members to a fiery end. He moves towards a large clock structure, blasting it and causing it to fall on more of Jodie’s pursuers below.

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Jodie uses the gap to head inside a near building while Aiden blasts cars and then possesses a helicopter driver to bring the chopper down. The street is on fire as Jodie emerges from the building. She walks towards the SWAT team leader and says, ‘tell them to leave me alone, because next time I’ll kill everyone.’

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Cage then went on to discuss the gameplay demo, explaining how Beyond is about emotion and that this scene (which is described above) is unique in the story. He was adamant that each scene in the game is different, with this one being very action driven, but that the game is bigger than just action alone, that it follows the journey of a character. There are also many ways to play a scene, you could for example have been arrested and the game would carry on in a different way. Your actions also affect the way in which the story unfolds, your action affect the story and could cause characters to die, without a game over screen. When asked whether Jodie could die, Cage just said that he can’t say she can’t die in a game about death.

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Cage mentioned how Ellen Page, who has been cast to play Jodie, was very respectful and liked both the character and the script. He also alluded to other scenes in the game where we would enjoy Page’s acting skills, where we could see how each move is different and that everything is choreographed. Next he addressed the Quick Time Events in Beyond, saying that he wanted to explore how to use the interface to enforce mimickery and that gamers shouldn’t be so afraid of them. When asked about the possibility of the inclusion of 3D and PlayStation Move support Cage said that this was still in discussion.

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We then chatted about a few questions to do with shower scenes, love interests and alternate endings. Cage said that love is a part of life, and as such Jodie will no doubt experience it. He also said that there are different alternate endings because different choices lead to different scenes in the game unfolding.

Cage ended off the presentation by saying that everything you liked in Heavy Rain you will find in Beyond, that it’s a mature experience that has choices and consequences. You will meet Jodie as a young girl at the beginning of Beyond, become a part of her life and see her grow over 15 years. You will also see how controlling Jodie as a young girl and as an adult are two very different things.

I liked Heavy Rain, and so far I like everything about Beyond: Two Souls as well.

In case you missed it, here’s the debut cinematic for the game, if you watch closely you’ll see a few snippets of the action described above.

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