Beyond: Two Souls--A Life Out of Sequence

The upcoming game from David Cage has big narrative ambitions, and attempts to seamlessly integrate your choices into the tale it tells.

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"It's about growing, it's about learning, it's about accepting who you are. It's about mourning, it's about death, and it's about what's on the other side." So said David Cage of his new game, Beyond: Two Souls. Like his previous game, Heavy Rain, Beyond is a story he's attempting to tell not through noninteractive cutscenes, but through gameplay. Here, though, his goal has been to make your choices feel more organic so that you're not so much responding to obvious prompts in the environment as you are just moving around and acting according to your own whims, with the story taking your actions, and your successes and failures, into account.

I had a chance to play a few scenes from Beyond recently, and to talk to Cage about the game. The first scene I played was called The Experiment, and in it, I controlled the 8-year-old Jodie Holmes, who the game follows throughout a 15-year span from childhood to adulthood. Jodie isn't like other children; she's tethered to a mysterious spiritual entity named Aiden, who sometimes acts as her friend and protector. As Cage put it, however, "he can be very jealous, very possessive, sometimes even very violent. He doesn't really understand the rules of our world, and he just behaves sometimes like a wild beast." I got to see this side of Aiden during the scene.

I sent papers flying. I flipped tables over. I destroyed cameras and smashed windows, and it all felt like a natural and cathartic expression of rage at the way Jodie was being treated not like a normal child but a scientific curiosity.
I watched as the young Jodie was escorted by scientists to a table in an observation room and a contraption was placed on her head. On the table in front of her were cards with symbols on them, and in an adjacent room, a woman was sitting at a table that had identical cards on it. That woman would choose a card, and then Jodie was instructed to identify which card she had chosen. Switching from Jodie to Aiden, I flew into the adjacent room, taking a moment to listen in on the scientists as they chatted with each other and to send subtle chills up their spines, before observing which card the woman had chosen, and then, as Jodie, identifying it. I could have chosen any card, and I was curious what would happen if I opted to repeatedly select the wrong card, but I was feeling inclined to demonstrate my unusual abilities to the scientists, so I complied with the goals of the test.

Eventually, I was asked if I could knock over some building blocks in the next room. Using Aiden's ability to unleash bursts of kinetic energy, I toppled the tiny blocks. Energized by this small display of force, I was curious to see what else I could do. I sent papers flying. I flipped tables over. I destroyed cameras and smashed windows, and it all felt like a natural and cathartic expression of rage at the way Jodie was being treated not like a normal child but a scientific curiosity.

One of the most impressive things about the scene was the performance from young Jodie, the way that, with a sad look in her eye or a subtle shake of her head, she communicated so much about how she felt, being treated this way. When I mentioned this to Cage, he nodded, and said of the actress who plays the 8-year-old Jodie, "She has a story. We met, and she had exactly the right look for the role, and she was taking acting lessons, but she had something a little bit sad in her eyes. I asked her, 'What does your father do?' And she told me he's a journalist. And [I asked], 'What does your mother do?' She said, 'My mother died two years ago.' And then I knew where the sadness came from. And what's horrible when you're a director is the fact that you tend to use these kinds of things. And I thought, OK, I mean, you're exactly what I'm looking for."

"How does it bring something new to the experience? How does it create this kind of macro-interactivity in a way where you need to connect dots and you need to play with the story at a macro level?"
The other scene I played, called The Hunted, was more sprawling. As a somewhat older Jodie (now played by Ellen Page), I made a daring leap from a train to escape some pursuing police officers, ran through a murky forest in which I was pursued by dogs, and used Aiden to possess a shotgun-wielding cop to distract other police so that I could steal a motorcycle. I was eventually captured by police and put into an armored vehicle, at which point, as Aiden, I possessed one of the officers in the car and used his gun to kill the vehicle's driver, resulting in a spectacular crash. All the while, there were occasional Heavy Rain-style prompts indicating buttons I needed to push to open this or interact with that, but I was never presented with obvious, stark choices. That's not to say that there were no choices, however. As I watched other people play through the scene after I was done, I saw that for some of them, things played out very differently, with some of them ending up involved in a showdown on the streets of a small town that I never experienced.

What's especially intriguing about the fact that you make choices that influence the course of Beyond's narrative is that the game is structured nonsequentially. Though it spans 15 years in Jodie's life, you don't experience the events of those years in order. "Sometimes you have consequences before causes," Cage said. "Sometimes you have a bad relationship with a character and you wonder what happened, and it's only a couple of scenes later that you will understand what happened." It struck me that given both the impact that your choices can have and the nonsequential structure, it must have been very difficult to plot the game in such a way that its story always makes sense and is internally consistent.

When I asked Cage about this, he replied, "To tell the story of someone through 15 years of her life is already a challenge. But then, it was something interesting to do. I wrote the piece in chronological order, and then I tried to figure out how we could play with these different pieces of the puzzle in a way that would make sense for the player and really bring something. It was not about having something gratuitous, where I just do it because I think it's cool. But how does it bring something new to the experience? How does it create this kind of macro-interactivity in a way where you need to connect dots and you need to play with the story at a macro level? This is something I found very appealing."

I found Heavy Rain to be fascinating but messy; its individual scenes were effective at generating tension and making you care for its characters, but it all collapses like a house of cards when you think about the plot as a whole. I hope Beyond avoids this trap. Both The Experiment and The Hunted were absorbing sequences on their own, but what will ultimately make or break the game may be how these and all the other scenes fit together, and particularly given the nonsequential approach, I fear that the "emotional journey" Cage told me he's attempting to create may be buried under a plot that's trying to do too much. But there's also something exciting about the narrative ambition of it all, and as a lover of great storytelling, I'm hoping that all the pieces of this narrative puzzle come together to create something extraordinary.

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Discussion

73 comments
inscript
inscript

Xbox one is available in 13 countries Nov. 22. 2013 .. i feel bad for sony Japan fans they wont be seeing the Ps4 till Feb. of 2014 ps 4 is japan's product i just dont understand how sony could  be such a sale out

AzraRillian
AzraRillian

wow, I wasn't really looking too closely at the image of the young Jodie, so I actually thought it was an image of a child actor... goes to show how real it can look if you're not paying too much attention. And it's not even next gen... imagine what that will be like in a couple of years (or a decade).

Young_Charter
Young_Charter

While we wait that good month it would be nice to get Indigo Prophecy/Fahrenheit  for PSN

LocoBaxter
LocoBaxter

How can she say that "the plot as a whole" collapses if she hasn't experienced the story "as a whole"? I think i get what she means. I just think she could have said it better. 

Also Im really excited about this game.


leeti
leeti

I absolutely admire whatever  Quantic Dreams makes.  These are truly games for adults in the best possible sense of the word .

Snakepond1
Snakepond1

Just remember polygons equal emotion.

Creed02
Creed02

The game looks awesome.
I would prefer to watch rather than play.

somatzu
somatzu

I love how 90s grungy Ellen Page is. 

AcousticSoul20
AcousticSoul20

I am incredibly excited about this game! absolutely cant wait to play it!

Slash_out
Slash_out

Those graphics are amazing, this must be pulling everything the PS3 has left.

Even things like the camo paint on the girl's face are impressive.

I have played David Cage's previous games so I know this will be good as well. I can't wait.

Hurvl
Hurvl

The graphics are amazing! I'm mostly impressed by how life-like the eyes are, it's looks like they are actually looking at something and not just staring at nothing in particular, like a puppet. The faces also seem very realistic, although it's still noticeable that they're just computer generated, if you look more than a second at them. I prefer it that way I think, I still want to feel like I'm in a game looking at NPC's. The clothes are indistinguishable from reality, though, both Jodie's green/white striped shirt and Willem Dafoe's character's suit looks like something a real person could wear. If more next-gen games look this awesome, we're in for quite a visual treat. Now, all we need is gameplay, animations and all other stuff to match it, or even come close, and the gaming future looks very bright.

Breyant
Breyant

I really hope he can pull it together this time. He's made a lot of bold claims, and so far it sounds like the story is going to be a mess, but... I want to have faith.

straightcur
straightcur

I hope there is actually some "gameplay' in this one....  heavy rain was interesting at first , but got reallllly boring and repetitive....  really I think it was a stretch to call it a game.

chieflion
chieflion

Cage is pretty g at making crazy ass emotional stories and shit, its like his dad was in videogames and he had to take on the business, but incorperated his true passion of filmaking into his job. tis fucked tis.

dmastor
dmastor

Yeah It was cool with indigo and okay with heavy rain now it's just looking like a one trick pony from this studio

erMonezza
erMonezza

It sounds interesting, but it also sounds 'as usual' like an interactive movie with limited gameplay.This, to me sounds like a 60€ movie with one base story and some minor different outcomes during gameplay. Definitely not worth the price of admission.

Quote from the article: "...All the while, there were occasional Heavy Rain-style prompts indicating buttons I needed to push..."

To those that wi play the game, enjoy. :)

cheers


StonerDemon
StonerDemon

Sometimes I say "Oh, Ellen Paige, yeah, well she is actually very pretty"... and then I watch her using a baseball cap and she looks like a boy.

And that's the moment when I feel really, really weird.

SpinDie25
SpinDie25

GET ELLEN PAGE OUT OF MY VIDEO GAMES!!!! AHHHHHHHHH

LilRoss2k3
LilRoss2k3

i don't see  how anyone could gripe about plot holes in heavy rain unless you got one of the "unperfect" endings.  sure, there were some plot threads that went nowhere...but i thought the story was fine.  i recently played through again making all the worst moves i could make and if i had gotten that ending the first time i would have been like what the hell??

Gamer_4_Fun
Gamer_4_Fun

Sony games, if you have just one reason to buy PS4 is because of games like this. Not your average gritty run of the mill marine mowing down anything that moves.

NTM23
NTM23

I really want to hear the soundtrack, it's done by Lorne Balfe, and I believe some of it from Hans Zimmer, though I can't be sure on that.

Tielo1
Tielo1

@inscript (Most) Japanese people really don't buy a console, they buy a specific game that they care for and then get the console that comes with it. No significant Japanese titles are ready for the PS4 on launce day so they wait to release it until that certain game is there. It's not Sony being disrespectful to their home market but knowing their home market.

What is more... disappointing is MS. They promised to release in 21 countries but paddled back and  8 countries got to hear MS doesn't care for them (Belgium, Denmark, Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Russia, Sweden, Switzerland). More astounding is that for instance Xbox has about 50% of it's market share in the Netherlands but a much smaller % in France.

But if that is not enough of the 13 countries the console releases in only 5 languages are supported by their Kinect. Voice communication is presented as 1 of the most imported selling points (they even started their first press show with that but for most users it's an option that may or may not be implemented ever.

On topic, can't wait to play Beyond Two Souls. MS is promising to support their system for 3 more years but show no decent exclusive, PS had 21 this year with games like The Last of Us, God of War, Puppeteer, Rain and GT to name just a few.

leviathanwing
leviathanwing

@inscript firstly you dont know what sell out means.  secondly xbone is not available in 13 countries on launch day.  thirdly one of those countries missing that launch date of xbone is japan... just something good to know, eh?

BiohazardXTREME
BiohazardXTREME

@Young_Charter As long as it's an HD version of Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy Director's Cut, the full and uncensored version that's been released for PC. I con't think I can play the muddy looking SD PS2 version again.

BiohazardXTREME
BiohazardXTREME

@leeti I just wish the acting wasn't so hammy. I think the games would be a lot better with a bit more subtlety. Think the difference between Ethan's reaction to when Shaun disappears and Joel's reaction (in The Last Of Us) at the very end of the prologue. But hopefully hiring crafted actors like Ellen Paige and Willam Dafoe will successfully achieve that level of subtlety.

jark888
jark888

@Hiddai Exactly! How many game out there can put Hollywood stars in, and they looks so much like them. Well, LA. Noire is an exception.

SexyJazzCat
SexyJazzCat

@straightcur If we can get away with calling something like The Walking Dead a game, highly praised for it's focus on story driven elements (and less on gameplay), then i think Heavy Rain could get away with it too.

Ottoni
Ottoni

@dmastor  xbox fanboys trying to depreciate the ps3's exclusives because the 360 doesn't know what exclusives means anymore

evil13killer
evil13killer

@Shinra_Tensei4 jealous microsoft fanboy

Breyant
Breyant

@LilRoss2k3 Are you forgetting about all those scenes where Ethan loses consciousness and wakes up holding an origami? They are never explained and are put there simply to confuse the player.

SexyJazzCat
SexyJazzCat

@NTM23 It was originally done by Normand Corbeil, the guy who composed the soundtrack for Heavy Rain. It's a shame he died this year of PC, may he rest in peace. His score was never finished so Balf and Zimmer are finishing it.

Printul_Noptii
Printul_Noptii

@NTM23 I think the original soundwriter for this died and Lorne Balfe took over and since he collaborates a lot with Zimmer, there could also be some tracks from him but so far this game looks amazing !

carloscanalesv
carloscanalesv

@NTM23 both of them are involved in the soundtrack.Zimmer composed the more orchestral parts.

inscript
inscript

I'am laughing at your good to know, because your stupid I really mean it from the bottom of my heart ..first of all mr I don't know shit it's 13 markets wich are 13 countries United States and United Kingdom, as well as Australia, Austria, Brazil, Canada, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Mexico, Spain, and New Zealand if Microsoft get Japan it will be 14 ...do homework before you start blurring bullshit cause it stinks.. Mean while Sony choose to support the U.S first and avoid its origin shame on you sony

jophy
jophy

@jark888 @Hiddai LA Noire is amazing. Gameplay wise not so much but it was a worthwhile experience

VoidSECT
VoidSECT

@Printul_Noptii  You merely scratched the surface mate, but those are definitely good reasons i agree.

Hurvl
Hurvl

@SexyJazzCat @NTM23 I figured PC stood for pancreatic cancer, because saying that he died because he went to do music for PC games just sounded too weird and cynical, even for anonymous internet commenters.

Smosh150
Smosh150

@carloscanalesv @NTM23 That just makes it all the better, him and Bear McCreary are amazing, though ofc McCreary isn't in this.