Two of my personal favourite games of the last ten years are Quantic Dreams' Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) and Heavy Rain. Not that they weren't flawed. Who in their right mind can keep a straight face as the Mayans and the Internet face off towards the end of the former, and Heavy Rain had some glaring plot holes for players to deal with. Nevertheless, they went far to prove that the gaming medium was capable of more as far as narratives and storytelling goes. The dawn of true cinematic interactive entertainment may still be lurking beyond the horizon, but Quantic Dream are intent on getting there some day.
With Beyond: Two Souls, Quantic Dream continues their work along the same lines, and it is obvious that the game is firmly rooted in the fundamentals of Heavy Rain. But I'm going to assume you are at least somewhat familiar with the basics of Quantic Dream's previous efforts and focus on what's different. The first thing we notice is the fact that we're not given multiple views on the story, instead we get to follow Jodie Holmes, played by Ellen Page, through 15 years as she explores a relationship with a mysterious entity (or ghost if you will), that has somehow always accompanied her.
This naturally falls in line with Quantic Dream's well documented interest in the paranormal, but it feels refreshing that it comes to the forefront this time around, and that it isn't hidden or even edited down like it was in Heavy Rain. It also comes across as way more personal than the hero's journey Lucas Kane experienced in Fahrenheit, where the main protagonist found himself at the center of a conflict that threatened all of mankind.
While Jodie may still have a role to play in the greater scheme of things (highly likely), the way the game was presented at E3 makes us think that the scope is different this time around and that the focus is on her personal exploration of the link that ties her to the entity.
The choice to go with an established actress like Ellen Page (Juno, Inception) is a bold move. Because the game seems to mirror Page's acting to such a degree that any misstep is bound to create that uncanny valley feeling they so desperately want to avoid. At the same time the potential upside is massive. From what we witnessed at E3 Quantic Dream have done an impeccable job so far.
The developers picked the atmospheric scene when Jodie Holmes sits in a local sheriff's office that is about to get raided by federal police to introduce the world to Beyond: Two Souls. Perhaps an indication of just how bold the game is in its premise - most of the scene is just building mood - and when something finally happens...well, there's isn't much to be seen. The introduction also did very little to reveal just how much freedom and branching there is in the game, something that has been a hallmark of previous Quantic Dream titles.
Watch: The E3 presentation footage
The branching storylines will be there, and your journey with Jodie and the entity (Aiden?) will be your own. It's going to be interesting to see just how the narrative will work as it seems the player is limited to hearing Jodie's responses to the entity. Perhaps the communication will be more straight forward at times, but it's an interesting set up.
Quantic Dream were keen to point out that Jodie and the entity are not the same, and that even if players will be switching between controlling the two - they may be operating with very different agendas. Whether the player can influence both of these remains to be seen.
The combat in Beyond: Two Souls is an area Quantic Dream are still fairly vague about. Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain relied heavily on quick time events, and - especially in Fahrenheit - this was a bit of a distraction during key scenes (you're not really watching the action since you're trying to pull off a twenty-five step-long quick time event), and while there will be some quick time events in Beyond: Two Souls there will be fewer QTEs and combat will be more reactive. It's quite possible that controlling the entity will allow for new and interesting twists to combat, but don't expect this to be a bodyjumping shooter experience.
In the Playstation lounge above E3's show floor we were given a brief demo where we got to see just how handy the entity can be as Jodie was locked up in a train compartment. The entity could freely roam and possess certain individuals (such as the train conductor) if they had some kind of yellow glimmering stars above their heads. Hopefully there will be areas where you can explore and manipulate events with this ability to even greater extent than just freeing Jodie and locking someone else in.
It's nice to see David Cage and Quantic Dream in a favourable position after Heavy Rain exceeded commercial expectations, and with most of the technical groundwork done, the team has been able to focus their efforts even more on the narrative elements this time around. Hopefully, this means Beyond: Two Souls has what it takes to fulfill the promise of an even greater experience that both Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain left us with. The potential here is tremendous, and now it's up to Quantic Dream to deliver.
Watch: GRTV Interview with Producer Ray Khalastchi