Heavy Rain was ostensibly a game and undeniably a unique experience, but it was criticised by many in the core community for heading too far down the ‘interactive cinema’ path, even as it was praised for its excellent narrative and impressive motion capture-aided presentation. Nevertheless, a critical and commercial success, the game paved the way for Quantic Dream’s next, Beyond: Two Souls.
Studio founder David Cage’s new creation initially appears remarkably similar to his last. All characters have once again been completely motion-captured, providing a level of acting and expressiveness not often seen in video games. The world is dark and unsettling, but for reasons it’s hard to initially grasp. Questions accumulate but answers are not forthcoming. And it moves at the speed of a feather sinking in a tar pit.
The pre-alpha gameplay footage, however, shows a title potentially much heavier on the action and player agency.
Here, protagonist Jodie – played by Inception star Ellen Page – is seen in several face-offs with SWAT team members, all of whom fall prey one way or another to what appears to be a ghost-like superpower. The ghost is actually Aiden, an entity whose connection with Jodie and origin form the basis for the narrative. All other story details are yet to emerge.
At certain points, the player is in complete control of Aiden, and may possess hapless SWAT members to wreak havoc while Jodie slips out of their grasp. At other points, Jodie may be controlled using the left stick while context-specific actions are triggered by QTEs, Heavy Rain-style. That game’s prompt-heavy style has certainly not been abandoned, but it sounds as though Quantic is attempting to give players greater control, while still keeping tight grip on the pacing.
“It’s much more aimed at full gameplay control rather than guided hand-holding,” SCEE’s Ray Khalastchi told us. “[It’s] much more core.”
Impressively, the studio’s motion capture technology has seen a large upgrade in the two years since Heavy Rain. Now, 64 cameras rather than 28 are used for performance capture, and rather than stitching together separate face and body takes, the whole lot may be filmed at once, with multiple actors in frame, even. The technology is akin to what was used on Avatar, claims Khalastchi. Some may dispute that, but either way, Beyond is astounding to look at.
Further, it practically bleeds atmosphere. The cinematic presentation has freed the developers to force viewing angles and direct the experience in a way not possible in most game genres. As with its predecessor, a confluence of design choices give Beyond that nightmare quality without throwing the boogeyman front and centre – dread hangs in the air, and choices don’t appear to be delineated clearly along the good/evil divide. Lingering goodwill from Heavy Rain’s writing makes it seem practically guaranteed that the story at least will be top-notch.
David Cage has admitted in the past that he simply could have presided over another Heavy Rain and watched the money flow in, but that he’d rather attempt to advance the form and keep things interesting for all involved. Whether Beyond: Two Souls embodies the kind of departure that will convince those repelled by Heavy Rain’s minimal gameplay and ponderous opening hours to have a look is moot right now. However, few would argue that it’s not a good thing to have a such an outlier in development in a time when so many triple-A titles are becoming comically interchangeable.
Beyond: Two Souls is due out in Q1, 2013.