After attending last week’s preview event for “Beyond: Two Souls” at the Quantic Dream offices in Paris, I initially wanted to knock out my impressions of the approximately 10-15 minute hands-on demo as soon as I got home. But looking back over my notes from the full presentation–from the ambitions that CEO David Cage laid out for the game to some of the later gameplay footage we were shown, I wanted to sit on my impressions for a bit.
If you want the quick pitch: “Beyond” plays like a 3D adventure game with impeccable production value but what’s troubling–that’s too strong, what’s curious–is that Quantic Dream didn’t allow us to see something tangible in terms of how choice will affect the story.
A Sony PR rep held the headphones away from me at the start of the demo, explaining that an early conversation between Ellen Page’s Jodie and Willem Dafoe’s Dr. Nathan Dawkins would constitute spoilers for “Beyond,” in a sequence set about a third of the way through the story and based on the character model that appeared to be a teen Jodie. So lacking context, I would have to muddle along, taking Jodie on some unknown mission through a flaming facility with the help, of course, of the entity known as Aiden who has been her lifelong companion and overzealous protector.
Taking control of Jodie, I walked up the steps of what appeared to be a darkened medical facility, emergency responders ringed around the building, pulling out the dead and wounded from some unknown crisis. Entering the building, there were signs of an attack of some sort, leaving bodies scattered throughout like grisly surprises. I made my way to an elevator, but while the call button was responsive, something was preventing the car from ascending to my location. So I used Aiden to find out what was going on.
A few words about the camera: it’s “fixed-ish,” held behind Jodie, turning and following her with the action, occasionally cutting to a new angle in tight environments. Like “Resident Evil,” but it feels like there are tons more angles being exploited, allowing Quantic Dream to maintain the appearance that it’s following Jodie while controlling the angle from which key action occurs (one example during the demo involves a moment where a figure rises up behind Jodie).
Aiden can be summoned at any time using the triangle button, launching himself from Jodie and bathing the world in a bluish, spectral haze, with brightly-colored points of interest throughout the environment. I floated down and saw a piece of furniture obstructing the elevator door from closing, so to get it out of the way, I’d have to zap it: I held back both sticks, the controller vibrating in my hand, then bam, the obstruction was knocked out of the way and I could return to Jodie and help her proceed (the same PR rep told me that the controls were still being refined).
After a scare inside of the elevator shaft (I won’t spoil it here), Jodie scrambles out into the burning interior of the building where more bodies of scientists and soldiers dot the hallways and corners like gruesome surprises. To help figure out what to do next (and what happened here), I would need Aiden again. Pressing L1 while controlling Jodie to interact with the corpse, I used the thumbsticks to draw out some kind of spiritual essence from the bodies, triggering brief, violent flashbacks to an attack by squid-like creatures; some of these would provide clues as to the next point of interaction in the environment but it didn’t seem like it was necessary to view any of these to proceed. I should note, there was no sense of urgency here: given that “Beyond: Two Souls” doesn’t have a traditional win/lose fail state per se, the flames didn’t appear to affect Jodie in any way, hence I could take my time exploring to figure out where to go next.
Ultimately, I was able to make my way to a fire-free room before the PR rep took the controller away. The demo was over.
In a presentation for “Beyond” earlier in the day, Quantic Dream CEO David Cage explained that players would experience the story of “Beyond” in what his team likes to consider “chronological disorder,” the jumps between periods in Jodie’s life to somehow be explained in the full context of the story. What this means is that the assembled journalists really would have no idea how this slice of gameplay would affect the narrative–an odd decision for a project that’s being pushed on the premise that players will have a deep, emotional connection to Jodie and Aiden’s fates.
But absent context, it was unclear how any of that mattered here. It’s kind of like touting your complex dialog system and then exclusively showing off your combat system. I don’t know how “Beyond” will do the things that David Cage claims based on my time with the game. It’s undoubtedly good-looking (although you could level a complaint that the urgency issue extends to the current animations with Jodie sort of languorously strolling the halls of the facility), but with the exception of some physics-based puzzle solutions, it doesn’t feel any different from classic 2D adventure games. Watching other journalists play through the demo, unless it was incredibly subtle, I didn’t see the variability in the scenes that Quantic Dream is promising here–just the same hall crawl and encounters. If the point was to give us a sense of the controls and how (limited) interactions work, then mission accomplished–they’ve proven they can make a 3D adventure game.
I’m not damning “Beyond” based on a few minutes with an out-of-context demo, but again, I come back to this being an odd representation of the game that Cage and company are selling here.
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