Thursday, October 3, 2013

Review: Beyond Two Souls Demo

In the early 80s a new type of game was released to the market. Laserdisc games that were essentially interactive movies. One of the earliest and easily one of the most popular examples of this is Dragon's Lair. It was very limited but a real beauty for the time because while the arcades were filled with *this, you turn the corner and you see *this. The control for these games were also limited since all you do is either move the joystick in the right direction or hit an action button when the video prompts you to. Some of these games were ported to home consoles like the Sega CD but in other cases they were also ported to just straight up DVD because of how simple the controls were. These games dated themselves quickly and most aren't that memorable and even less stand the test of time.
Fast forward to the mid-2000s and a game company called Quantic Dream releases Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit for everywhere else in the world) which is being praised as an interactive movie. Move forward to 2010 and out comes Heavy Rain. A game in the similar style to Fahrenheit that also calls back to those Dragon's Lair games of old but even more interactive. Heavy Rain branched out with multiple characters, multiple stories, and multiple routes. Way more than what most games may boast about. I actually still have a copy of Playstation Magazine that maps out all the different routes in Heavy Rain and it's pretty extensive. With that history in mind it brings us to Beyond Two Souls, a game that owes it's existence to this history of games.
Before continuing I want to point out a couple things that add to the legitimacy of the cinematic approach. One is that it starts actual Hollywood actors. Ellen Page who has a very prominent role, and Willem Dafoe who seems to have an important role but only appears once in the whole demo. They both put on a great performance as they always do and it helps add to the immersion. Aka, acting in a video game that's actually good! Also the game is presented in a wider aspect ratio of 2.35:1. It doesn't fill the screen. Even in gameplay there are bars on the top and bottom and it makes it BEAUTIFUL! Last note I want to make is that the game was presented as an official selection of the Tribeca Film Festival. While it's the second game to be shown there (the first being L.A. Noire) it is still saying something that it made it there. There was a 35 minute gameplay video screened for that "premier."

The demo states it contains two sequences but I would say it's more like four scenes. Each does offer something unique with the first two preparing you for what comes in the third and fourth.

Sequence 1: You're a young Jodie (Ellen Page) and you live in what looks like a place of scientific experimentation. A lab you might say. A scientist takes you into a room with where you put on a piece of headgear like you see when someone's mental state is being examined. The purpose of this experiment is to pick the same card as the woman in the room next to you, and of course you can't see her. This is when you change character in a way and become Aiden. When you play as Aiden you are a spirit, soul I guess based on the title that can freely move through walls without anyone seeing you, and you can physically mess with items as well. So when you play as Aiden you go through the wall, look at the card, return to playing as Jodie and pick the card. Easy. Then you get to play around with throwing things around the room freaking the woman out because you're doing the same thing as a poltergeist. As this sequence ends it suggests that Jodie doesn't have full control over Aiden and he could even hurt her with all the powers he has. This sequence is a great introduction giving a lot of mystery of what exactly Jodie's powers are, who this Aiden is, hell even what happened that caused her to be thrown into this lab.
Sequence 2: This is just a quick tutorial for the fighting scenes in the game. It's very simple and it eliminates there being a lot of buttons on screen, giving a better cinematic feel to the game as a whole. The fighting works where when you are swinging your fist or moving to dodge you simple point the right joystick in the direction you're moving. And it slows down briefly so you're not too on edge. This is a great way to indicate when you need to do something. It does it in a way that modern cinema does anyway, with all the slowdown and fast cuts.
Sequence 3: This part is easily my favorite and really showcased how well the cinematic aspects works, keeping it within the universe and not too gamey. After a brief scene on a train where the police catch up with you, you as Aiden possess the mind of one of the police men to help you escape from the police. Then a chase through the woods starts. Let me say that this sequence is the t example of realistic realism I've ever seen in video games. You actually feel like Jodie is naturally running through the woods, reacting to every bit of wood, branch, bump that comes your way. It is absolutely beautiful and the animation does not come off as repetitive in the least. SERIOUSLY! Go play this demo and that sequence of her running is one of my favorite parts because of how good it looked. After escaping she also steals (again with the help of Aiden) a police motorcycle to escape. Again it looks and feels so insanely realistic I couldn't believe it. Yes you get the feeling of it carrying you along but you do NEED to be interacting to make it work. It is incredible what is being done here.
Sequence 4: This is similar to the last half of the last sequence but more with the combat of Aiden than Jodie. I actually didn't care for this part quite as much because Aiden is used through a first person perspective and he doesn't have that solid of controls. This sequence you are literally surrounded by a swat team with a helicopter and everything. You do multiple treatments of possessions to ram a car into a gas station or using your psychic abilities to choke the swat team, but the process of getting to each guy and step was somewhat slow, interrupting the tension and excitement of the sequence. Not to say it's all a lost because it isn't as bad as I make it sound. It's just that with how un-gamey parts of this demo have felt, this part felt very gamey.

I can't wait to see what the rest of the game is like. I am so excited for this to come out with it feeling like an ever better experience than Heavy Rain was. It is presented more realistically with less "buttons" on screen and presented in an actual cinematic aspect ratio. That and the animations look fantastic. Even with the way you're walking from room to room as a standard person. Like in the beginning when you play the child version of Jodie she is looking around very naturally. When you push forward she walks forward naturally like a real person and when you let go she doesn't stop on a dime like other characters. She comes to a gradual stop, you know, like an actual person who is walking naturally.
If you have a PS3 I urge you to try this game out. But keep in mind it's not like many other games out there. If you like having tons of control you're not gonna get it here. But the cinematic experience you get from it is so mind blowing, and if anything you can see it as a tech demo that can showcase the future of even more realistic elements in gaming.

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