Beyond: How Quantic Dream's latest is more than just Heavy Rain 2
by Andrew Yoon, shacknews.com, Jun 7, 2012 4:00PM PDT
Heavy Rain was a surprise success for Quantic Dream and Sony. It was a human story, a stark contrast to the bombastic Hollywood-style action games that have come to define the market. Choices mattered, and most importantly of all, failure didn't mean the end of the story.
What if David Cage and the rest of the team at Quantic could build upon those strengths--but add more meaningful gameplay, and higher-octane action? The end result is Beyond: Two Souls, a game revealed at Sony's E3 press conference days earlier.
In many ways, Beyond feels like "Heavy Rain 2." When playing as Jodie (Ellen Page), you interact with the environment in the same way. On-screen button prompts show you what you can use, and how you can use it. As in Quantic's last game, Beyond attempts to translate the motion in a meaningful way, instead of assigning arbitrary buttons, as in most games' QTE sequences. For example, picking up a cup may involve pushing the analog stick up, while kicking a door down will require shaking the controller.
In one part of the demo, Jodie had to escape getting caught by the authorities. She rushes out of her train car, but it's too late--they've already spotted her. She runs forward, trying to open various doors by using the on-screen prompts. Eventually, she makes her way to the top of the train. As she runs towards the front of the train, cops try to grab her; Jodie must dodge by clearing QTE sections. As in Heavy Rain, failing a single QTE doesn't necessarily mean the fight is over, however. Instead, it simply changes. Jodie might fall, for example, and initiate a different QTE sequence, where she must recover.
The similarities between Heavy Rain and Beyond stop there, however. Whereas Cage intentionally avoided supernatural abilities in Heavy Rain after the criticisms he faced after Indigo Prophecy, he's fully embracing the paranormal this time around. Jodie is bonded to a spirit named Aiden, and that allows Beyond to become a very different game. For example, the action scenes are a lot more over-the-top than what Heavy Rain's story could afford. On top of the train, Jodie has the option of jumping off the train--protected by a translucent blue shield offered by her spiritual companion.
In another sequence, Jodie is riding a motorcycle through a windy forest highway. This isn't a cutscene, however. Players must actually steer the bike using Sixaxis tilt controls. While QTEs are still a part of the gameplay, Beyond gives players far more direct control over the character, For example, in the aforementioned train sequence, Jodie was actually being steered directly by the player, only triggering QTE fights with cops when she ran too close to them. In another section, it's up to the player to run around and navigate the forest--all whilst avoiding detection from the cops.
As Jodie rides her bike, she eventually comes to a police barricade. Here, she decides to use the power of her ghost companion yet again, using Aiden's shield to drive directly through the roadblock. These are no ordinary cops, equipped with assault rifles. The shield is quite effective, however, with bullets bouncing off of it.
Interestingly, you don't just play as Jodie. You play as Aiden, as well. And here, Beyond shows how truly different it is. As a disembodied spirit, you can simply float around the environment. You're tethered to Jodie, though, so you can only explore so far before being reeled back in. On the train, for example, you can float outside, passing through any and all matter, and travel as far as the next station. You can see and hear the police talking about how they plan on stopping the train, and capturing Jodie. As Aiden, you can use that information to alert Jodie, giving her a chance to escape.
While Aiden floats through everything, he can interact with certain objects in the environment. For example, he can make a cup topple over. Or, he can make a bag fall down. As Aiden, you'll see a number of glowing auras, indicating what you can lock onto and possess.
The possession mechanic is at the heart of Beyond's new puzzles. For example, for Jodie to get the bicycle, she first had to deal with the police offers that were surrounding it. Switching to Aiden, you'll see various colored auras around people: white, yellow, and red. While you can't do much to anyone in white, you can possess anyone with a yellow aura. In this sequence, Aiden took control of a cop in a van, and then commanded him to just drive the van recklessly. As the cops were distracted by the possessed man's odd behavior, Jodie was able to steal the bike.
There are bigger and more dire situations which demand Aiden's powers to be called upon. In the demo's finale, Jodie has been shot, is trapped by an oncoming SWAT team. It's up to Aiden to take care of them--by killing everyone in the area. Here, Beyond becomes a sandbox of destruction. You can possess one of the snipers, for example, and kill off as many soldiers as possible before they fire back at you. You can use your ghastly powers to kick cars over, killing any soldiers taking cover behind them. You can even topple a clock tower, using Aiden's amplified powers.
There's a gas station nearby, and causing it to explode will kill off many of the men threatening to grab Jodie. And there are multiple ways of causing it to burn up. You could possess one of the soldiers, and have him throw a grenade towards the tanks. Or, you could knock one of the nozzles off its handle, causing the petrol to spill to the ground. As the spill grows, you can possess a street lamp, cause the bulb to explode. The sparks will then ignite the fuel, causing the entire station to go boom.
All of this happens in real time, as the soldiers make their way closer to Jodie. You might be successful in letting her escape, having discovered the many ways you can kill in this environment. However, what happens if one squad makes it through, amidst all the chaos and commotion? Beyond still retains the branching storytelling of Heavy Rain, writer and director David Cage promised us.
Beyond takes the best aspects of Heavy Rain--crucial decision-making and an adaptive, branching storyline--and adds much more player interactivity. Remaining in direct control of all the characters seems to be a new emphasis in Beyond, one that's much appreciated. Aiden's supernatural abilities add a fascinating, albeit brutal, new puzzle-solving mechanic. And, it's all done with performances that are far more believable and lifelike than in Quantic Dream's last effort. Combining all of these elements, Beyond is not only one of the best surprises of E3 this year, it's one of the best games at the show.