David Cage’s cinematic experience pushes the boundaries of how we define “play.”
So far, we’ve seen the cinematic nature of Beyond: Two Souls – David Cage’s PlayStation 3 exclusive starring Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. Like Heavy Rain, Beyond is about the experience of the story, which in this case features Ellen Page as a CIA operative with a ghostly spirit for a companion. At Sony’s E3 booth, press got to see a different side of Beyond – the actual act of playing it.
Similar to Heavy Rain, the “play” aspect of Beyond is limited to choice-making with button presses and controller motions expressing those choices. There is very little user interface to speak of – even less than the hovering words in Heavy Rain – with Beyond players only seeing subtle white dots, the occasional button or controller icon, or a slow down in an action sequence as invitations to actually do something. The story of the game, which spans Jodie’s life from age 8 to age 23, is the real “point” of the experience and the UI takes a backseat to the player witnessing that story unfold.
The demo covers a level about halfway through the game where Jodie – along with her spirit companion Aiden (pronounced “Eye-Dan” for no apparent reason) – is trying to get through a war-torn African nation alongside a child soldier native to the region. At this point in the story – maybe halfway through the game – Jodie is a trained CIA operative and has training with guns, knives and close-quarters combat moves. Even so, it’s Aiden that does most of her killing for her, provided Jodie is close enough to an enemy to deploy him.
At this point in the game, the controls likely would’ve been communicated to the player completely – but as this is a drop-in demo, additional tutorial UI was added for our benefit. From these instructions, I learned that Jodie can only really use the right stick and sometimes a controller button to interact with the world around her (and it’s contextual based on what’s going on in the game) while Aiden has a fixed set of controls (hold down shoulder buttons and move left and right stick out or in) that cause him to possess people, choke people or otherwise kill whatever he touches. While possessing people, Aiden controls like Jodie – with the right stick’s contextual interactions, white dots and subtle button icons to prompt the player to take action.
Because Beyond: Two Souls is supposed to be a cinematic experience, I find it impossible to evaluate this game based on being dropped in the middle of the story. I can say that while everything looked movie-quality good, the actual experience of trying to press the right button or press the right stick at the correct time was pretty miserable. In particular, during the combat sequences when the action drops into slow motion (prompting the player to act), I was told all I needed to do was push the left stick in the direction Jodie was already moving to complete the action (back to dodge, forward to block, etc.). More often than not, I wound pushing the stick in the wrong direction – because it would LOOK like Jodie was leaning back when really I was supposed to press forward so that she could reach out and grab the arm of an assailant.
Again, much like Heavy Rain‘s press-multiple-buttons-to-not-die controls, Beyond‘s control system was not an intuitive experience. And it also begs the question, “If you’ve already choreographed and filmed the only move Jodie can do while being attacked in this sequence… why do I even need to press the dumb stick the one time to complete the action?” It’s like asking me if I want to bake cookies and then only allowing me to pull the pan out of the oven – I’m not actually a part of the process and the outcome is the same no matter what I do*.
*Excepting dying, which presumably creates some kind of game over sequence.
Beyond: Two Souls is due out on PlayStation 3 October 8.