Is it possible to consider video-games at the same level as other types of media, such as films? This question has sparked many discussions in the entertainment industry.
Sony and Quantic Dreams seem to want to answer that with upcoming PlayStation 3 exclusive, Beyond: Two Souls.
Sometimes it’s hard enough to battle with inner demons and a conscience that continues on a daily basis. Just imagine what its like for Beyond: Two Souls protagonist, Jodie, who has to deal with being connected to a spirit for most of her life.
As my demonstration began, Jodie had been turned into a soldier. Her unusual powers made the army curious, so they decided to use her as a weapon against their enemies. It’s perhaps a sad insight into how humanity deals with those who are special and stand out from the norm.
Controlling Jodie is simple. Her movements are slightly slow and most of the demo consists of making Jodie perform such actions as taking cover or climbing up ladders. Some of these actions require the use of motion controls, admittedly a nice touch.
Other actions, such as cover, require a combination of button presses. It’s somewhat unusual given that players are probably expecting a more traditional approach. However, those that think Beyond is a standard cover, run, gun shooter are in for a surprise.
In fact, not giving the player control of a gun or cover makes for a more thrilling experience. In contrast, Jodie is much more adept at hand to hand combat. She demonstrated her skills various times throughout the demo.
When faced with hand to hand combat situations, it becomes necessary to make use of the right stick. A dangerous idea, but one that works well because of the low danger of losing. The player must move the stick so Jodie avoids her enemy’s attack, opening up the opportunity to potentially counter the strike.
This is tricky – even though there is a slowdown to make it easier to react appropriately – since, initially, it feels confusing to not be pressing a combination of attacks. Although it does feel more natural, it’s not without trial and error. Failing most of these resulted in Jodie being covered with cuts and bruises.
Frankly, it felt daunting to see such errors can result in cuts on Jodie’s face and body, cuts that could potentially lead to scarring. But this isn’t unusual for those who played Heavy Rain and are used to the consequences for failing certain actions.
Here, consequences felt somewhat closer to home. Jodie, although powerful, is still only at the start of her life. Her leg gets shot during one point in the demo. It helped create a scenario where an attachment and fear for her life could be felt. Such sights don’t make Jodie vulnerable, they merely humanise her and not make her out as some Terminator sent back from the future.
It’s easy to guess from her actions throughout the demo that Jodie isn’t used to the horrors she faces. The story pulls no punches and there are a few twists that will probably shock players. If this is a glimpse of what is to come story wise, it could provide as much of an emotional journey as the recently released The Last of Us.
The demo seemed to start at the beginning of the game, so it felt somewhat easy to get through it all. There didn’t seem like much of an imminent threat to the point that it was necessary to continue after dying. Perhaps the developers are aiming to make this as approachable as possible – given the nature of the story and the genre.
There is some level of exploration, but otherwise there was always some sort of visual aid that pulled the player towards the objective. This too, is perhaps, a side effect of the demo feeling more like an introduction.
Jodie’s soul companion, Aiden, is understandably the main focus of this demo. His unique powers continue to aid her throughout the mission. It’s obvious that he is the reason why she was enlisted in the first place.
Players are able to take control of Aiden at any point. His unique position means that enemies are never aware of his presence. This make it possible for him to interact with some of them. At various points, he was able to possess them or strangle them to death. Aiden is also able to use his energy to open doors and interact with other objects or push through weak structure like walls.
Interestingly enough, the area that Aiden can explore is limited due to his connection to Jodie. A sort of umbilical cord links both and is used as a visual aid to go back into Jodie’s body – or whatever Aiden gets back to.
Both sticks are used to enable each of Aiden’s actions and each requires different actions. What’s so interesting about his abilities is how it makes the game feel less linear. Jodie will have to find certain positions so he can interact with specific targets. At times it feels like a puzzle because getting through some obstacles will require lateral thinking.
One example involves possessing an enemy wearing sun glasses so Aiden can get through a checkpoint without causing an alert. See, the eyes of a possessed enemy will look bizarre. It’s but one of many clever ideas that made playing through the demo more enjoyable.
Most cut-scenes are also interactive with the player expected to engage at some level. One cut-scene sees the player hitting a button repeatedly so Jodie can use Aiden as a barrier to stop her from being hit by bullets.
It’s clear that this is more of an interactive experience. Although not overly difficult, it’s still enjoyable to see the connection between Jodie and Aide.
As expected, Beyond: Two Souls is also looking beautiful visually. Although the environments shown mean that it isn’t possible to truly see what is there on offer.
Oddly enough it was Jodie’s vacant facial expression that stood out throughout the demo. It almost felt as if her heart wasn’t really into the mission. Perhaps she really didn’t feel like she believed in what she was doing. Perhaps it will change as more of her story is revealed in the lead up to launch.
Those worried this will become a standard shooter will be pleased to know its the complete opposite. The risk taken to stick to button inputs and Aiden’s abilities to get through armed enemies is exemplary. It makes Two Souls all the more interesting.
The connection between both main characters creates a fascinating dynamic. Beyond: Two Souls is turning into a worthy effort from Sony as they continue to launch high quality software this late into the PlayStation 3’s life cycle.