It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of Quick Time Events (QTEs) in games. I’ve railed against this method of videogame interaction many times before and while I don’t mind button mashing and following a sequence of inputs to split-second timing in small doses (and when it’s done judiciously), there are games that use QTEs as a broken, splintered crutch.
Heavy Rain from David Cage and developer Quantic Dream took the use of QTEs to a different place and combined direct control of your character while linking button prompts and PlayStation 3 controller movement to logical interactions and actions in the game, famously requiring you to shake your controller left to right to brush your character’s teeth.
The story and world crafted by Quantic Dream and brought to life by David Cage was extraordinary and those who played Heavy Rain found it to be truly revolutionary in the way it delivered its narrative. As for the controls? I wasn’t a fan. I played Heavy Rain for a good number of hours and couldn’t get past the interaction method – my fault, I know.
With the announcement of Beyond: Two Souls from Quantic Dream, I was once again immediately intrigued by this new vision for story-telling from the French developer, and as more information was revealed I was even more interested in seeing the final game play out.
A game starring Ellen Page (Juno, Inception) and Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Spider-Man) with voice and performance capture by these two actors? A mysterious tale of a young woman living co-dependently with a supernatural and incredibly powerful entity at her beck and call? A game that isn’t afraid to put its story and performances front and centre and grip your heartstrings?
Definitely not your typical setup for what is, essentially, an action game… but what about those QTEs? David Cage had previously stated that we would see more natural and unintrusive prompts for interaction in Beyond, and I finally got to see what this amounts to during my hands-on time with the game at E3 2013.
Beyond: Two Souls – E3 Trailer
The Beyond demo at E3 revealed a plot point and location we previously hadn’t seen before, showing protagonist Jodie Holmes to be a well trained and highly skilled member of a special forces military outfit. Tasked with infiltrating a war torn area of Somalia on an important mission, I found myself in the dust-covered ruins of a rambling shanty town hiding behind cover with enemy soldiers up ahead.
It’s here that Jodie’s supernatural (and invisible) ‘friend,’ Aiden, makes itself useful. With the click of a button my view was zoomed out from behind Jodie and into a floating camera perspective above the ground, which I had complete control over – if you’ve ever gone into ‘no clip’ mode in a first-person shooter, or spectator mode in a multiplayer game, you’ll understand how this works.
Now in control of Aiden, I could guide (and glide) the camera in the air, and because this entity is invisible enemies won’t see you coming. Aiden seems to be intent on doing anything it takes to keep Jodie (and ‘itself’) alive, which means killing in the name of survival. Focussing my view on a soldier, it was an easy task to choke him out by pushing and holding the PS3 controller’s sticks together and watching as Aiden’s focus took a physical effect on the world. With my controller vibrating wildly and the camera shaking, my target slumped to the floor with a gargle, freeing up Jodie’s path forward.
Aiden has other talents, too, and using different combinations of stick motions (either together, apart or inversely up and down), when you’re in control of this entity you’ll be able to send enemies sprawling with a ‘slingshot’ movement on the sticks, as well as possess enemies to carry out your dirty work (which may involve them killing their fellow soldiers or even friends).
When not floating above the ground as Aiden, you’ll take control of Jodie either by directly moving her through the world in a third-person perspective and snapping to cover points to avoid being seen (and shot) and then popping out of cover to perform auto-aimed gunshots, or indirectly during action sequences or interaction segments, like climbing ladders.
I have to say, though, moving Jodie around is a little squirrelly and imprecise at the moment, which isn’t helped by the camera wildly bobbing about as you move. The simple act of sneaking through a doorway was made a lot more difficult than need be, I feel, and steering Jodie felt like directing a tank through an intricate obstacle course. While it’s true that there must be some form of tutorial level to get acquainted with the controls, it was also often difficult to know exactly what the game wanted from me in terms of interaction.
In approaching a ladder, for example, you’re required to shake the PS3 controller up to initiate the climb, but after that you’ll simply need to move up the ladder and then get off at the top, which is peculiar. Why not just press a button to get on the ladder, or automatically snap onto it when you move towards it? Is there any higher level of interaction and engagement gained by using motion controls? Game designers weigh in.
El33tonline at E3 2013: The Passion of the David Cage – A live Beyond demonstration
David Cage’s promises of unintrusive interaction prompts in Beyond are manifested during action sequences where Jodie is pitted against an opponent, obstacle or challenge of some sort, demonstrated in the E3 demo during fights between herself and enemy soldiers. Entering into a locked mini-encounter, the soldiers relentlessly tried to punch, kick and grab Jodie, as well as attempt to slash her with a knife. When an enemy moved to strike, the action slowed down and the screen went slightly greyscale to invoke action on my part.
Without directly prompting me for input (well, other than the very first time), Jodie’s own movement and actions during these sequences clued me in to the corresponding controller movement required of me to get her through these hairy encounters. If Jodie moved backwards away from a knife swipe, for example, I needed to move the controller’s stick away from the knife, too, effectively ‘completing’ and continuing her own dodge move. Similarly, if Jodie moved forward, up or down to dodge or block attacks, or perform an attack of her own, moving the stick in the direction of her own movement allowed her to escape the fight unharmed.
During certain of these movements, however, it was unclear which stick movement was required of me. For example, Jodie’s hand would move forward to block a knife attack, but her body would be moving backwards at the same time. Which motion should I complete, back or forward?
It was forward. I got it wrong and got stabbed.
When you’re not fighting enemies in slow motion, you’ll continue to make use of Aiden’s specific set of skills, namely possession. In order to escape the Somalian town, I needed a car. In order to get the car, I needed to take care of two soldiers hanging around the car, one of which was the driver. After popping into Aiden’s floating camera and focussing on the fellow standing outside, I was handily able to possess him as his eyes rolled back into his head and his pupils disappeared, transforming him into an eerie puppet now in my control.
A quick button sequence later, and my puppet had shot the driver and climbed into the seat, ready to be Jodie’s chauffeur for the day, driving past danger as she hid in the bed of the truck in the back. It wasn’t long before someone found me out and an intense car chase ensued, meaning I’d need to fight off a few soldiers who managed to leap into the back with me. Fisticuffs (and… knifecuffs?) ensued, but before long the entire chase was put to an end by a vicious explosion that sent the squabbling party crashing to the ground.
And that was the end of the demo.
From what I’ve played of Beyond: Two Souls, it seems as though there is no hard fail state in the game, and even if you aren’t swift or eagle-eyed enough to succeed during specific fights and challenges the game will continue, but with consequences. Similar to Heavy Rain, failure (and even death) won’t splash a ‘Game Over’ screen in front of your eyes and Quantic Dream has even alluded to the idea that Jodie’s own death won’t be the end of the adventure. Aiden is there if need be, after all.
The initial point of interest for me in Beyond was dramatically displayed during the E3 demo and the voice acting performances by Ellen Page and other characters is striking. With simple eye and head movements, as well as realistically recreated body language, it’s easy to read the emotional state of the actors and get a feel for the situation. The story and narrative delivery of the game alone will get me through Beyond.
It is curious, however, that Quantic Dream and David Cage are so averse to following the standards for videogame interaction, especially when players are by now so well versed in the known language of character manipulation. Continuing to introduce different methods of moving an avatar on screen and strange input requirement may yet be Beyond’s undoing. Perhaps the team at Quantic Dream don’t see ‘gamers’ as the target market for Beyond and expect more casual players interested in a good story to be more accepting of control schemes that aren’t familiar to them?
There are still many questions I have regarding Beyond, such as what exactly happens in different fail stats, how Jodie and Aiden’s relationship will evolve over time, and if Aiden’s use is limited or not, but I’m willing to wait for these answers when I play the final game in October this year.
If anything, David Cage and his team will once again deliver a gripping, endlessly fascinating experience that pushes the envelope for story in videogames and I’m very eager to witness how this vision unfolds in Beyond: Two Souls.
Beyond: Two Souls is out on October 8th in the US and October 11th in Europe and the UK – flip through El33tonline’s extensive coverage of the game for more screenshots, trailers and information.
Follow El33tonline’s extensive previous and continued coverage of E3 2013 with all of the most important and exciting news, announcements, screenshots, trailers and additional details.