Somewhere, Brenden McNamara is weeping. The creative director of LA Noire banked a great deal on that game’s facial animations, so much so that it took six years to get them where he wanted them. They were incredible too. Ground breaking even, but they have been completely and thoroughly surpassed. To add a touch of insult to injury, the facial animations in Beyond: Two Souls aren’t even a major part of the game as they were in LA Noire. They are just there because they can be.
Beyond: Two Souls is a difficult game to classify. It is not an action game, but it doesn’t quite veer far enough towards being a narratively driven story as Quantic Dreams’ last game, Heavy Rain was. It falls somewhere in between. It is bizarre and beautiful, with some of the most incredible graphics ever seen–especially the faces.
The game stars Academy Award Nominee Ellen Page as Jodie Holmes, a fugitive on the run. Jodie is not like other people. Since she was a child, an entity known as Aiden has been her constant companion, friend, and even occasional tormentor.
Aiden is a character with its own personality. It has no corporeal body and speaks only to Jodie. What it is and why it even exists is part of the mystery of the game. Aiden is protective of Jodie, but can also be jealous and petty at times. She lives a hellish life, and it needed an actress of Page’s skill to make this character more than a traditional video game girl-on-the-run archetype.
It really is hard to oversell the facial animations. Watching the demo for the game at the Sony Press Conference, it was possibly the best argument yet for there to not be a rush on churning out the next generation of consoles. If the PS3 can produce facial animation that can convey a spectrum of emotions that can accurately capture the performance of one of the best up and coming actresses in the world, why rush to market with the PS4? How much better do we need the graphics to be?
The demo at the Sony conference was focused around Jodie in a sheriff’s station with a shocked air around her. The sheriff asked Jodie questions, including where the large scar on the side of her head came from, but she remained nearly catatonic. On a previous system, that emotion would not have been nearly as convincing.
In the behind closed doors demo we were invited to, Quantic Dream showed off a sizeable section of the game, beginning with a 24-year old Jodie on a train. The game will take place over the course of Jodie’s life, and there will be four distinct periods that she will be playable through.
In the demo shown, Jodie was trying to sleep after days on the run, so the control shifted to the spirit Aiden. Aiden’s abilities are somewhat limited, but he (or it) is free to move around and interact with certain specific objects. In one case he knocked over a cup of coffee to alarm a woman, in another he made a man cold. Aiden could move freely, but Jodie was always marked and he could not stray too far. Whether this was a gameplay mechanic or due to the nature of their connection was unclear. Based on popular fiction, Aiden seems very much like a poltergeist, but it is probably much more complicated than that.
The train stopped at a station to let on police who were searching for Jodie. With the help of Aiden, Jodie sees them first and begins to run. The player will control this section, but there will be quick time events for things like opening doors and dodging grabs. After making her way to the roof with Aiden’s help, Jodie showed some martial abilities and took a few of them out through a combination of player controlled movements and QTEs. She then jumped off the train and ran into the forest.
How Jodie runs is another feature that Quantic Mechanic is proud of, and rightly so. Ellen Page did full motion capture, and they recorded hours upon hours of different movements. It is not simply a “run animation,” it is a series of several different movements that are based on the character’s situation. Running on a street will look different than running over uneven terrain, for example.
As the police dogs closed in on her, a quick combat situation began and Jodie fought of her canine attackers with a stick using QTE. She then began to climb a cliff and came across a few cops. The game then switched to Aiden’s POV.
Aiden can see auras. A blue aura means that person cannot be interfered with, a red one means they can be physically attacked, and a yellow aura means possession is possible. The scenario offered several possible options on how to proceed. Jodie could fight, Aiden could distract, they could use stealth, and more. In this instance, Aiden took control of one of the cops who then went to a police SUV and began to ram it into a guard rail, scaring the hell out of the other cops and distracting them long enough to let Jodie steal a motorcycle.
As she headed into town, a SWAT roadblock awaited her. The SWAT team was exceptionally menacing, and seemed to be part of something bigger that was only hinted at. To avoid the bullets, Aiden formed a shield around Jodie and they rammed their way into town.
From there the game changed a bit. Jodie took cover as the SWAT closed in, and Aiden was allowed free reign to run amok. The town was open to him, and the choices were left completely up to the gamer. One option was to possess a sniper and fire on the other cops before being shot; another was to choke an attacker; yet another was to possess a SWAT member and have them run over others; another possessed enemy could throw a grenade at the gas station. Under these types of intense scenarios, Aiden becomes more powerful and can interact more with the world and also do things like throwing cars.
After a few moments of mayhem, Jodie warned the surviving SWAT members against messing with her, and left.
But the combat was not even close to being the most intriguing part of the game. The story that played out was designed to show what the game is capable of and to introduce the gameplay mechanics you will have at your disposal. It began with Jodie running form the cops, which led to several scenarios. But the thing that makes this game insanely incredible is that it could be an entirely different game based on your choices. Jodie fought the law and won, but she could also have given up immediately, been arrested, and started an entirely new plot line.
The game’s overall plot introduces elements of what lies beyond death, hence the name, but how you get to that climax and what you gain from it is entirely up to you. the story promises to be dark and complex, and definitely for a mature audience.
The mechanic of using Aiden was interesting and there were plenty of choices, but the game is about the cinematic feel of pushing Jodie onwards through her journey more than gameplay. That shouldn’t be all that surprising to fans of Quantic Dreams’ library, and in a sea of sequels and familiar genres, Beyond is a fresh, and possibly brilliant new IP.
There are still a lot of questions surrounding this game, but that is a good thing. If you want something like a shooter or a mash-em-up action game, Beyond: Two Souls probably isn’t for you. If you are looking for something that you have never seen before, then keep an eye on this title and expect plenty more about it until its release exclusively for the PS3 next year.