Beyond: Two Souls preview with David Cage – “This is the most important revolution that the industry has to make”
David Cage doesn’t do sequels. In an industry that increasingly lives and dies by establishing franchises and then expanding them seemingly indefinitely, Quantic Dream has remained a resolute purveyor of new IPs. Heavy Rain 2 would, you’d imagine, have been a mammoth presence on sales charts from USA to Japan if the studio had decided to go that way – but it didn’t. Instead, ready yourself for Quantic Dream’s fourth game, and its fourth new IP. This is Beyond: Two Souls.
Beyond: Two Souls PS3 preview
“We don’t want to give people what they expect,” says the Parisian studio’s founder and CEO, David Cage, in an exclusive OPM interview. “We want to give them something they want without knowing they want it.” Whether you subscribe to his particular vision of the medium or not, it’s undeniable that the man’s got chutzpah to stick to his own rhetoric in this economic climate. “Many people want more of the same, and if that is what you offer them, they will gladly buy it,” he says of the current sequel-obsessed marketplace.
“The result is very simple: gamers invest money in publishers having no interest in innovation – they encourage them to keep making the same game every Christmas, and everybody’s happy. If you’re interested in innovation and believe that games could be more than shooters, then you realise that sequels kill creativity and innovation.” So The Nomad Soul II can be scratched off your wishlist, but at least you know Cage is looking to innovate rather than make a cookie-cutter chart-topper.
Beyond does share surface similarities with Heavy Rain. Old stalwarts such as QTE-driven roughhousing, emotionally driven gameplay and stormy weather return, and it’s clear the familiar ‘interactive storytelling’ rationale stands proudly at the head of Quantic Dream’s development process, too. Even so, don’t expect Beyond to feel like a spiritual sequel. Heavy Rain was about living in a character’s skin, making tough decisions and watching them play out from different perspectives. Conversely, at the heart of Beyond is an asymmetrical puzzle game: you’re in control of troubled Jodie Holmes – played by Ellen Page – in the physical realm, and a formless character named Idan in the supernatural realm.
Alone, Jodie’s vulnerability is almost painful as everyone, from coffee-swilling local police to faceless SWAT grunts, hones in on her. But Idan’s on her side, and he wields incredible power: he’s able to possess people and manipulate the scenery on both a small scale, such as tipping over a water bottle, or on an earth-rumbling scale, reducing clock towers to rubble at the flick of an analogue stick. As you play out 15 years of Jodie’s remarkable and as-yet mysterious life, you need to examine each environment through two sets of eyes – one grounded in the realms of physical possibility, and the other beyond.
Yes, you’re still interacting with the world through quarter-circles and prompted button-presses at times, but Beyond isn’t a new script filmed through the same lens. It’s a steady evolution of the Quantic Dream formula, with a distinct shift in intent towards keeping you active, responsive, and never tempted to just pop the controller down for a minute and watch the story play out – because you are the story. “For me, the main challenge is to tell the story through interactivity rather than through cut-scenes,” says Cage. “It is the player himself through his actions who should make the story move on.”
The interplay between Jodie and Idan means that as the player you’re never passive, even though one of the characters can be. On a night train dashing through a slumbering America, Jodie curls up in exhausted sleep against the window. Her only company is a handful of snoozing travellers dotted around the carriage, the rhythm of the tracks, and her nebulous companion.
While Jodie’s inactive, though, you’re in control of Idan, free to swoop around in the supernatural realm with giddy disregard for walls or floors by tilting the DualShock to steer and using R2 and L2 to move forward and backward. You’re limited to vaguely mischievous interactions initially – spilling someone’s coffee or rustling their newspaper, because supernatural entities get bored, too.
Once you swoop outside the train, though, the impending danger of Jodie’s situation becomes clear. The train slows to a halt, and an ominous announcement sounds out over the tannoy – ominous if you’re on the run from the cops like Jodie is, anyway. As Idan, you can drift out of the train into the night and see a convoy of police (who look like they’ve been transferred directly from their beat in Twin Peaks, WA). Eavesdropping on their chatter, you learn that Jodie really is their target. And here you have options – and none of them result in a ‘game over’ screen, no matter how many QTEs your clumsy hands mistime.