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Bringing back the drama: a Beyond Two Souls preview

Courtesy of Quantic Dream.
Courtesy of Quantic Dream.

Playfully lauded as ‘Ellen Page: the game,’ Beyond: Two Souls is Quantic Dream’s latest effort to marry drama and videogames together in a seamless experience. The studio is the same one responsible for other emotional ventures such as Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain. Beyond: Two Souls has big shoes to fill following up the critically acclaimed Heavy Rain, but will its focus on drama shoot the game play in the foot?

In the recently launched beta for the game, players are allowed to play two sections of the game labeled ‘The Experiment’ and ‘Hunted.’ The first is a basic tutorial and gives more background on Ellen Page’s character Jodie. We find Jodie in a hospital facility where different experiments are being performed on her to evaluate the power of her linked entity named Aiden. Aiden is literally the player in this case. There are no prescribed actions for you to follow as you can knock over stuff, smash windows, possess people, and Jodie can only ask you to do certain things, not control you.

Willem Dafoe plays Nathan, a scientist that researches Jodie's ability for much of her life.
Willem Dafoe plays Nathan, a scientist that researches Jodie’s ability for much of her life.

As the game progresses to the second section, we find Jodie on the run for an as yet unexplained reason and attempting to escape cadres of local police. Jodie makes her way off a speeding train, through a dense forest and posts a final stand in a nearby town. This entire section is where Two Souls really shows off all the improvements it has made over Heavy Rain. No more are there a dozen button presses needed just to walk down a hill (yes, seriously), and instead a more fluid quick-time system takes over.

Button presses are still necessary, but far fewer are needed in lieu of the game relying on the analog sticks and a time slowdown mechanic. For example, if Jodie is running and a big tree branch gets in her way, the game screen will discolor and slow down for a few moments in order for players to hit the analog stick in the direction of her action (in this case hitting it downward to duck). At first this is pretty jarring to game play but works really well when the action turns up and alleviates much of the frustration 17 button presses can bring around.

Graphically the game is pretty impressive with the main character models, but it appears to have the same issue that Heavy Rain did in that non-playable characters look terrible in comparison. Regardless the best thing featured in Two Souls thus far, is the ability to switch to the Aiden entity and go to town. Within the second section of the beta, the player can decide to do whatever they want in order to protect Jodie from the swarming police forces. As Aiden you can move objects to impede their progress, execute some of them, or possess a few to take out some others. Switching to Aiden does come with a few issues, as you can only switch to the entity in certain scenes and there is a certain amount of distance you can stray from Jodie.

The story is only touched on in the beta, but it appears that the game will follow Jodie through a majority of her life starting from the discovery of Aiden when she is a child, following through her tenure in an experimental hospital (and presumably some militaristic training), and further into her life on the run from the people who wanted to abuse her and Aiden for their own ends. Willem Dafoe appears as if he will have an integral relationship with Jodie and so far, it seems like Ellen Page is turning on the serious switch for her role as Jodie. If the beta is anything to go off of, Beyond: Two Souls looks like it might just alleviate all the issues that Heavy Rain had and perfect their much pursued ‘interactive drama experience’.

Beyond: Two Souls will be released on October 8 for Playstation 3.

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