There are many similarities between Beyond: Two Souls and Quantic Dreams' last offering, Heavy Rain. The most immediately obvious is the control scheme. It's no carbon copy, but a similar level of adjustment is required in order to fully immerse yourself in the experience.
As with Heavy Rain before it, Beyond isn't played in the traditional sense. It's part game, part interactive experience, where the player must wiggle and wave the controller just as much as they need to flick the analogue sticks and press buttons. Heavy Rain told a series of intersecting stories based around a series of sinister murders, that led players to a revelatory conclusion and one of several different endings.
Beyond: Two Souls is a more focussed experience. Here players take control of one character, Jodie Holmes, and a ghost that accompanies her throughout her life. Played by actor Ellen Page, the quality of the performance is immediately obvious and draws you in to the experience. The supporting cast includes the sublime Willem Dafoe, so you know Quantic Dreams has spared no expense in hiring actors capable of doing justice to their story.
We were able to sample two of the chapters in Jodie's story, taken from among several that chart her journey from childhood to adult life (if you don't want any spoilers, at the end of this para skip to the final section). These chapters were entirely separate from each other, connected only by Holmes and her companion, Aiden. Both her strength and her curse, Aiden is a presence that accompanies Jodie, the worst kind of invisible friend. At times he can be playful, at times malevolent, but he's always there.
The relationship between Jodie and Aiden takes form in the game's central mechanic. You can control both, taking Jodie from location to location, and switching to Aiden in order to take care of some of the nastier business that must be attended to. The first mission we tried was set in Somalia, although we were given no explanation to our presence there. The military uniform gives something away, but we're fighting side by side with a child soldier. That was our only context. Hugging cover, Jodie is under fire from local militia. Although she's armed we press a button and take control of Aiden, switching from a third to a first-person perspective.
We move over the battlefield to where one of the soldiers is waiting. Selecting him with another button tap presents us with options. Depending on the action, we must push in or pull out the analogue sticks accordingly, charging up the attack before releasing. In this instance we let go of the sticks and Aiden blasts away the wall protecting the soldier, killing him instantly. There are other ways to utilise him in the game. The main one we used was possession, which is used to take over the body of an NPC. Aiden can then kill other nearby targets, unaware that one of their own are being controlled by this supernatural character.
Back with Jodie, there's some close-quarters combat to guide her through. This time swinging the controller away from the momentum of your opponent stops her from getting caught by an incoming attack. The fight doesn't go our way, but the child soldier at our sides saves us from impending death, and we're back on our feet and moving towards our target. We duck under windows and between sandstone buildings. At one point the path is blocked by an armed patrol, at which point Aiden forms a protective bubble around Jodie and we rush past without taking any bullets.
The level culminates in a set-piece that involves possessing a guard in a base, and using him to kill a high-level target within a compound. At first we take control of the wrong soldier, and we can't get access to the room where we need to be, but after exploring the area with Aiden (Jodie is secreted in a building across the street) we soon find a more appropriate mark. The man is possessed, makes an entrance, picks up a gun, and takes out everyone in the room. Jodie must now confirm the kill, and enters the base, but upon exiting she's shot by an approaching mob. Luckily two American choppers descend, fight back the crowd, and extract her.
The second level couldn't be more different. It starts on a train. Jodie is trying to sleep, but a bored Aiden is making mischief and we're controlling him as he flicks suitcases down from the luggage rail. At this point the police board the train and arrest her, again there's no context. Locked in a room and under guard, we/Aiden possess the patrolman and unlock the door, allowing Jodie to escape.
What follows is a tense chase sequence through a woodland area, with Jodie ducking and jumping over fallen branches. Dogs take up pursuit, and flashlights pierce the darkness as we try to escape. It's very atmospheric. Eventually we're caught again, forcing Jodie to take more drastic measures to evade incarceration. Stealing a police bike we're driving on the open road, with Aiden once again forming a protective bubble as we smash through a road blockade. It's leads us to a ferocious battle in the streets of a nearby town, as Aiden takes out the SWAT team sent to capture Jodie. It's violent, loud, and full of incident. When it's all over, and Jodie is left standing alone in the middle of the street, she tells one of the downed policemen that next time she won't be so gentle, or words to that effect.
We had to rely on the visuals to really deliver the story, as we played the game in the midst of a crowded room and it was a strain to hear the dialogue. But as you would expect from the studio that gave us Heavy Rain, they do a fine job in conveying the story through the actors at their disposal. There's an interesting duality between Jodie and Aiden that'll make for a unique dynamic, and of course the control scheme is bespoke. It requires a short period of adjustment, and there's still time for Quantic Dreams to make them more intuitive before the game launches later this year. We'll wait for the finished version of the game before we start casting judgement in that direction, but having played this extended demo we're certainly expecting good things from Beyond: Two Souls.