Emotion. There – glad we got that out-of-the-way. Quantic Dream’s figurehead David Cage has long sought to create games that push the boundaries of what we believe to be possible in our favourite medium, by blurring the lines between video games and cinema. His aim – to make us feel ’emotions we have never felt in real life’ (?). His earlier games Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain have gone a long way to achieve a cinematic flair unmatched by his contemporaries, but it is with Beyond: Two Souls that his vision may finally reach fruition.
The game’s female protagonist Jodie Holmes is played by a famous and well-respected young actress – Ellen Page (Juno, Hard Candy, Super). Acting alongside her is hugely talented and revered actor Willem Dafoe (The Last Temptation of Christ, The Deer Hunter, er…Spiderman). By attracting Hollywood talent to his latest project, Cage is not only creating his most believably cinematic game to date, he has finally got the attention of the film world too – the game recently premiered a 35 minute gameplay demo at the Tribeca Film Festival, only the second game to have done so (LA Noire being the first).
We know reasonably little about the game, aside from its very clear similarities to Heavy Rain. The game looks like it plays pretty much identically, presenting a very stylish, cinematic story peppered with contextual button presses, moral dilemmas and yes, QTEs. The story will take us through 15 years of Jodie’s life, from the age of 8 through to 23. Jodie is on a journey of discovery to find the truth behind the supernatural entity known only as Aiden (pronounced ‘eye-den’) who has been with her throughout her life; looking out for her. Dafoe plays Nathan Dawkins (a homage to Richard?); Jodie’s father figure who happens to be a government scientist who has been working with Jodie to try to ascertain the source of her unnatural powers.
The gameplay demo gave us a lengthy glimpse of Jodie; presenting a quietly sad, vulnerable young girl. As we join her Jodie is freezing in a shop doorway on a snowy night. She staggers to a phone box and calls Dawkins, although its clear at this point she does not want to be found. She hangs up and makes it a few paces before collapsing in the street. Her supernatural guardian swoops down an alley in a POV shot, knocking over a bin to get the attention of a disheveled hobo. He comes across Jodie and takes her under his wing. The attention to detail, character models and motion capture are absolutely staggering – if we were shown this as part of the Playstation 4 conference we would have been blown away, but the fact this is running on PS3 beggars belief. Ellen Page’s performance has been captured down to the tiniest emotive detail – as little as we’ve seen of her; we’re attached to her already.
The duo need to make some money to eat for the night, so they split up to go begging. On coming upon a busker whose fingers are too cold to play; Jodie picks up the guitar and plays a plaintive, fragile rendition of ‘Lost Cause‘ by Beck. It’s a very tender moment that points to good things down the line for this game – and its one that you don’t even have to see, or can interrupt at several points.
It’s one of several poignant moments scattered throughout just half an hour – David Cage may finally have what he’s always wanted. At one stage we see Jodie attempt to throw herself from a ledge into the road below – only to be buoyed up by an unseen force. Her desperation is clear; this is not a happy girl. It’s not all despair and depression from Jodie though – later on we see her take out a group of four muggers with slick combat manoeuvres that she ‘learned in the army’. She also displays a steely resourcefulness when delivering a fellow homeless woman’s baby, and saves a group of vagrants from a burning building. In the trailer on the game’s official website, we see Jodie’s true potential – taking out an entire SWAT team with devastating aggression. She’s an intriguing character and we can’t wait to see more. The demo ends with Jodie being viciously beaten by the thugs from earlier, and left for dead in the snow, not breathing…
Beyond: Two Souls will have its fair share of detractors. Like Heavy Rain and more recently The Walking Dead; many will deride the game as little more than an interactive cutscene. But what David Cage does is create compelling story-driven experiences that technically dazzle, and this is looking to be no exception. Some of us at Low Fat Gaming are looking forward to this as much as GTA 5. When joined by The Last of Us and Gran Turismo 6, Sony are proving that while Microsoft and their triple A exclusives dominated the first part of this generation; in its final year the only place left to be is PS3.
– Matt Reynolds. He’s on Twitter @thelostmoment