It's been a year since our last E3 closed door demo with Beyond: Two Souls, and the breadth of the story of Quantic Dream's follow-up to Heavy Rain is becoming clear. E3 2012 brought a visually impressive current-gen game, but one that was mechanically and thematically similar to its predecessors.
Creator David Cage pulled no punches in his assessment of the new scene, "It's difficult for [Quantic Dream] to be at E3, as we don't make [explosion sound] games."
He contrasted the reaction they received to their most recent trailer, featuring fights and gunplay between Ellen Page's character, Jodie, and a CIA trainer, with both their previous moodier demo from 2012 and their Tribeca Film Festival trailer, which received a very positive reaction there. Cage was reluctantly enthusiastic regarding the E3 reaction to the fight-based trailers and action gameplay, but he insists this is a very small part of the finished product.
Onto the story: player character Jodie has had a spiritual counterpart named Aiden since she was born. The game features scenes of Jodie from the age of 8 up until the age of 23. It won't be in chronological order, and will hop back and forth.
Carrying on from their previous titles, Cage is looking to explore themes he considers atypical to most videogames. He wants to deal with life and death in a less casual way, and tell us story about personal growth. Above all, Cage said he wants the player to experience empathy for Jodie, and to "miss her when the game is over".
After watching the demo of Jodie fighting through Somalia, we went hands-on. One of the key questions is whether the game plays closer to Quantic's previous title, Heavy Rain, or provides the additional flexibility that the studio have been pushing since last year's E3.
The established mechanic of stabbing at buttons at the correct time is still present. However in close combat situations, the prompts are long gone and players must move the analog stick to follow the line of action of Jodie's actions. The combat definitely feels better than Heavy Rain, though the player's options are still limited. We tested deliberately failing in combat and there are definitely a lot of different options, but most of the time the eventual outcome is achieved.
One way the player's actions affect the game world is that if you fail in combat, Jodie's physical and mental state degrades. This isn't present in a health-bar, but instead limits how Jodie can manipulate characters around her with Aiden's powers.
As Cage himself acknowledges, this isn't a game where you have unlimited options. Quantic is attempting to tell a cohesive and mostly linear story. Failing will still get Jodie where she is going, and it appears there are a few select diversion points in the game.
There are a variety of ways to solve most problems, and these usually render different cut-scenes, with relatively similar results. For example, failing to escape to the roof in one scene to be rescued by a helicopter has Jodie instead rescued on the street outside.
When asked about the presence of a child with a gun in a videogame, Cage said, "I don't work on things thinking of the reactions, I just do what i believe in... There are kids with guns in the world". Some subtlety was lost, as this child helps Jodie shoot multiple enemies throughout the scene, before she inadvertently kill his father and inadvertently becomes the enemy - a relatively simplistic explanation for terrorism.
Already it's clear that Beyond: Two Souls will divide the gaming community into two camps just as Heavy Rain did. There will be those who consider Quantic's work to be overly-affected hyperfiction that can barely be called a "game" at all, and those who will regard Cage as a savant, tirelessly working to elevate games above their base shooty-man trappings.
Whatever your response to Beyond: Two Souls is, it's unlikely to be indifference.