Quantic Dreams’ Beyond: Two Souls is in a bit of a predicament. It’s been a highly-touted game, delivering incredible visuals and a compelling plot, an all-star cast of actors, and several successful demos and positive press. But it’s also coming at the tail end of this generation, when suddenly games like Killzone: Shadow Fall, Infamous: Second Son, and Next Gen Title: The Subtitle are blowing minds with visual technology and processing power that PS3 games can’t match.
Beyond‘s visuals really can’t come compete with thar, to no fault of the developers’ incredible work on it. It doesn’t have the update controls of the PS4′s new pad. It doesn’t have cloud computing or social features.
But damn if it doesn’t just feel gooooood.
The demo I tried this week was focused around lead character Jodie working her way through a Somali town along with her child guide Salim. The trailers — which depict Jodie shooting, kicking, running and gunning through the town — are not indicative of the actual gameplay. Fear not: this controls very much so like Heavy Rain, which means that it’s a series of quick time events linked together by third person movement. In my entire demo I don’t think I guided Jodie to shoot a single bullet, as her movements focused on getting from one side of the town to the next without getting injured or killed. Jodie uses Salim to guide her through the town, jumping on cars and climbing ladders, sneaking past guards or ducking into back alleys.
Hiding and ducking isn’t the big focus of the game, though. Jodie is tethered, quite literally, to a bodiless entity/spirit named Aiden. Aiden acts like a giant stretchy invisible hand, able to choke enemies, knock them back, or even possess them. This was best utilized right at the beginning of my demo, where Jodie used Aiden to possess one of the terrorists on the path in front of her, and control him to turn around and shoot his partner. Then, Aiden chokes the gunman and Jodie and Salim are able to pass. Aiden can extend as far as the “tether” to Jodie will let him, which is usually around 20 or 30 feet, through walls and over objects. Tiny lighted icons in the world determine what Aiden can and can’t interact with, and should he extend too far out he hits a “wall” and his reach ends.
Running past the next section, an alleyway in which a gunfight was taking place, Jodie is shot in the arm. Aiden’s next ability is revealed as he heals Jodie almost instantly (by rotating both thumb sticks to the same location on her body). Quantic Dream’s use of every aspect of the PS3 controller was evident here as much as it was in Heavy Rain. Shaking, tapping, pushing in sequence… it’s all extremely controlled, but allows for repeat attempts on some occasions if things don’t quite click the first time. I think that’s what took me out of the experience the most: the world seemed to stop while I tried to strangle an enemy, and if I missed once, I could try again and again and again until I got it right. This eliminates the tension of the situation or scene quite quickly.
That may wholly have been on the demo, though. Typically at E3 publishers tend to take the load off of the games, and what we see on the floor isn’t necessarily final code. However, this was an issue in a couple of sequences in Heavy Rain, and it worries me ever so slightly that it could happen here too.
My favorite part of the demo, outside of the interesting spirit tether portions, was jumping across moving trucks and fighting off terrorists. My button presses were off, and caused my Jodie to sustain heavy damage, but in the end I managed to survive long enough for my possessed driver to take us to safety.
The Beyond: Two Souls demo at E3 was strictly there to showcase the machinations of the game more so than the plot. However, with a solid evolution of its predecessor’s controls and the sci-fi spin, it may end up being an involving, emotional finale to this console generation. Beyond: Two Souls releases this October on the PS3.