Geek Preview – Beyond: Two Souls

The other day we were invited to attend a preview of Beyond: Two Souls, led by none other than the game’s director and writer David Cage. Now I must admit that I personally haven’t played their previous big title Heavy Rain (and I don’t own a Playstation for that matter), so I wasn’t really sure what to expect.

I’ve never wanted a PS3 in my life, but I definitely do now, more than the new Xbox One. And it’s just so I can play this game.

Cage spent a great deal of time telling us about a lot of revolutionary features in the game, as well as showing us videos of the development, the performance capture technology utilized to create such lifelike motions and emotions for the characters, the big name stars Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, and the music. I gotta admit that a lot of it was a bit ho-hum… I was an animator in the VFX industry before, and I kind of already know a thing or two about performance capture (as would anyone who has seen the special features on their Blu-ray copy of Avatar).

But the story… wow this looks to be a game that takes story-telling to the next level. Cage began by telling us that they abolished the game-over screen because they felt it was an unnatural part of gameplay – nothing new here, as I still remember how well the Prince of Persia reboot incorporated this element. But what really hooked me was that Beyond: Two Souls doesn’t just have a quick rewind and retry feature, and instead it will go ahead and play out the story with your failure or choice affecting the rest of the game.

A branching storyline

He showed us an example of the main character Jodie on a train. In one example, she wakes up and is able to escape from security guards looking for her, leading to a chase sequence. In the alternative playthrough, she is asleep when the guards reach her seat, and they arrest her immediately, and she’ll probably have to escape from a cell or something later on.

We’re told that it branches so much that there are 23 possible endings to the game.

A branching storyline of infinite possibilities? That sounds incredibly enticing! But branching stories can work one of two ways:

  1. It could be like Wing Commander 1, and it could branch so dramatically that the final act could either consist of a campaign where you’re taking the fight to enemy territory or you could be just fighting for survival while your fleet retreats from the sector.
  2. Or it could be like Mass Effect, where “branching” just means solving the same quests using different methods and receiving choices that are just Paragon/Renegade variations of the same thing.

I asked Cage if the different choices can drastically affect the whole arc of the story or if they’re just different ways to play out the same plot line, and he tells me that the 23 endings will be very different, and they won’t be the same ending rendered in 23 different colors.

A game of this scope is incredibly epic and I have my doubts whether they can actually deliver, but then again Ellen Page’s script for this game is reportedly 2000 pages long (a normal Hollywood script is 90-120 pages). That, and Cage is quite adamant that they’ve made a truly “next-gen” title in terms of gameplay and not just a higher poly count. You know what? I believe him because he seems like an incredibly sincere guy, and he sounds like he’s enough of a genius to pull it off. Actually, for most of the presentation I thought he was a shorter version of Gru from Despicable Me except with a French accent.

A game I can play with my mother-in-law

Another big deal about this game is the way they’re building multiplayer into the game. They studied the way people played Heavy Rain, and found a lot of backseat drivers telling the main player what to do. You could give them a controller, but many of these backseat drivers aren’t hardcore gamers and a Dualshock controller will just confuse them.

I’ve encountered this a lot recently when my mother-in-law was sitting on the couch next to me while I was playing a game, and she’d throw in a lot of helpful advice like “zombie on your left,” “Can you go through that door?” and my favorite “I think you should try not to die so often.”

So instead they’ve made it possible to connect your iOS/Android touch device to the PS3 via Wi-Fi, and now the backseat driver can control the supernatural entity known as Aiden (who in the story is intrinsically linked to the main character Jodie). I’m not sure what controlling Aiden entails exactly, but I’m sure this will give the second player a greater sense of control in the game, leading to even more immersion.

I hope this also means my mother-in-law will have her hands busy enough so that she’ll stop smacking my shoulder every time I die – it hurts after a while and numbing my arm muscles isn’t going to help me play the game better.

Ellen Page

It’s Ellen Page in the game… enough said. I interviewed her once when she was promoting the thriller Hard Candy, and I was dumbstruck by her intelligence and dedication to her craft. Anything she does is bound to be pretty amazing.

Beyond: Two Souls is a PS3-exclusive title and is due to be released 8 October 2013.