My personal highlight from the 2012 Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) was the trailer for Beyond: Two Souls. Developer Quantic Dream (QD) created a dramatic and atmospheric trailer that gives a tantalizingly vague idea of gameplay while showing the title's incredible technology.
Most viewers latched onto the tech first, and the developer put the results of its facial-capturing system front and center, knowing that it would grab people's attention.
The trailer begins with Beyond's lead character, Jodie Holmes, in a police station being questioned by a lieutenant named Sherman. And heavens to Murgatroyd, how realistic does Sherman look? His emotions, his movement, the straggly whiskers of his facial hair, are all very realistic.
By comparison, Jodie doesn’t look quite as good, but her likeness is still impressive. She is modeled after the actress who plays her, Ellen Page, overlaid with some shiny digital makeup. The scene shows other aspects of Beyond’s graphical strengths. Shafts of light break through the office’s blinds and over Sherman’s uniform. A spotlight glows over his desk. A strip of sweat runs down his forehead. Many of these small things combine to add a high level of realism, which hopefully, will continue throughout the game.
This lifelike facial and motion capture almost detracts from how good the scene is. It’s surprisingly slow paced for a game trailer. QD seems confident enough with its product to not have to sucker the viewer in with action. The sequence is tense, even before the SWAT team arrives. Tension emanates from Jodie, almost a sense of calm before an explosion. The viewer is left with the impression that if Sherman hits the right emotional buttons, Jodie will erupt.
The trailer shifted some existing mental levers into place, ones created by stories like The Hulk and Serenity. I speculate that the U.S. military had Jodie under its control and were attempting to weaponize her unique skills when she escaped (Sherman finds her lying on the side of the road). Jodie might be trying to seek freedom while evading the government forces that wish to recapture her. David Cage from QD has said that the game will take place over 15 years. We don't know exactly when this trailer fits in that timeline.
Somehow, I got this far without explaining what makes Jodie unique. She’s tethered to a ghost named Aiden, which the perky Page seems intent on mispronouncing as "Iden." Aiden can float about, all invisible and ghostly, possessing people and moving objects around. He’s the one who throws the cup against the wall in the police station and keeps busy in the subsequent b-roll footage, bringing down buildings and making a force shield around Jodie as she leaps from a train. The helicopter crash is caused when he possesses the pilot.
Jodie can also kick some ass, apparently, making her even more valuable to the military. No wonder it wants to get its hands on her.
I became somewhat cynical when Aiden was revealed as a playable character, particularly one that can possess people. Controlling the delectable Jodie would be one thing, but jumping to a ghost, then to another character, then back to the ghost, and then back to Jodie again could be a recipe for disaster. If this mechanic becomes a problem, the experience could suffer significantly. The idea itself is great, but the execution could be tough.
Some parts of the office scene left me with questions. I might just be thinking too much. But it seems that Jodie and Aiden will work in tandem, complementing each other. But in the trailer, it seems like Jodie is wary of Aiden’s actions, that Sherman is unknowingly aggravating Aiden, and that Jodie is powerless to stop him. Now, I might be misreading the footage, or maybe QD wanted to make it seem like Jodie has psychic powers that are fueled by rage. My impression of the scene doesn’t tie in with my idea of the game’s internal logic. But we should all know the truth soon enough.
Sherman doesn’t seem that surprised when a coffee cup flies off his desk, seemingly of its own accord. He does struggle to find his words and looks a little shaken, but if it was me, I’d be shrieking, “Demon coffee cup! Arghhhh,” and crying. Which is perhaps why I’m not a police officer. Does he know something we don’t? And will we see him outside of this segment?
At least from what I've read, I still don't know how Aiden brings down half a building. I worry that he might be too powerful. Great power
comes with great responsibility can cause smaller problems to look insignificant. If Aiden can topple a building, why would he struggle stopping four cops? If he can throw a protective shield around Jodie, how would she ever be in peril from gunfire? Why can Aiden possess some people and not others? QD will answer these questions. I just hope they do so in a logical and consistent way.
I have concerns about the way this game will play out. But I’m confident that if anyone can make an interesting game from this concept, it’s Quantic Dream. I haven’t played much of Heavy Rain (I’m so behind with games), but Indigo Prophecy is one of my all-time favorites. David Cage is a man who can be trusted.
Beyond: Two Souls is set for release in the first quarter of 2013. See the E3 trailer here.