Beyond: Two Souls Preview – A Few Thoughts on the Demo

Check back Tuesday 8 AM PST for our full review of Beyond: Two Souls, by Ross Lincoln (@RossLincoln)

It’s been nearly six years since the release of Heavy Rain and in that time, we haven’t seen much on the future of David Cage’s cinematic vision Beyond: Two Souls. Even going into E3, it wasn’t exactly clear what Two Souls was actually about.

Is Ellen Page playing some kind of super-spy? It wasn’t explained and seemed really out of place. But there’s a demo out now on PlayStation Network, so we dug in to find out for ourselves.

Switch to Aiden

One of the biggest surprises hopping into the demo was that Jodie –– Page’s character — wasn’t just some super-soldier, as the initial trailers led me to believe, but actually, she had the help of some mysterious power named Aiden. Despite a small amount of exposition at the beginning of the demo, I still don’t fully understand exactly what Aiden is or why he and Jodie are connected, but he sure is fun to play.

Aiden isn’t a person, but rather some sort of mysterious force that follows Jodie around and, at the same time, is connected within her. At least, that’s what I gleaned from it. He floats around as an invisible, yet visible to her, sparkly orb that looks like it’s right out of some kind of Disney magic.

While he’s definitely a part of her emotionally, Aiden and Jodie often seem at odds with each other. In one scene, on a train, Aiden is constantly bugging her while she’s trying to sleep. She yells at him to stop, showing that what he does is truly out of her power. Yet, for some reason, he wants to protect her. It isn’t clear how exactly they’re connected, and if the demo left me with one lingering question, that’d be it.

Cinematic Experience

If you’ve seen any of the trailer for Beyond: Two Souls, it’s easy to assume that everything you saw was cutscenes. But you would be wrong. Despite the constant cinematic camera angles and shots that wouldn’t seem possible to play through, the demo was almost entirely cutscene-free, instead opting to rely heavily on in-game presentation.

In the few seemingly unconnected sequences that we were shown in the demo, everything was paced differently. It had ups and downs in terms of pacing, but yet didn’t feel boring or slow, which is something that games often struggle with. Instead, it felt like things were constantly moving. If we weren’t moving along in the story, we were digging deeper into the character development about how Jodie’s powers came to be discovered.

In terms of overall scenes, it switches between three different environments. The first two come off feeling like short, ‘training montage’ style events that are meant to teach the player about how the game works rather than anything about exposition into the story. The first takes place in a research lab and focuses on teaching the player how to use Ivan’s powers while also introducing them to Jodie at the same time. The second teaches players about the combat system, but doesn’t really explain why she’s learning martial arts.

These scenes are short, and next thing we know, we’re treated with a long, multi-environment scene that moves Jodie from an unknown character to a fighting, cop-escaping super agent. They’re seemingly unconnected but I’ve been informed that this effect is carried into the full game as well. Despite this, they still feel as though they’re building pace like your average summer blockbuster would.

It’s not often that a game can actively sell me on its character’s personalities through a short 30-minute demo.

Unique, but Fluid, Controls

It doesn’t seem like a game with a camera as manipulative as this would be playable at all, but it surprisingly is. At first, when the demo opens inside of some sort of research hospital, I found myself fighting with the camera in an attempt to control it and look around. I was simply walking down a hall and felt like a drunk constantly trying to straighten my vision. I couldn’t help but get the feeling that it was going to be Heavy Rain all over again, but once I gave in and let the camera do its thing without me bothering it, I realized just how different it really is.

In fact, Beyond: Two Souls utilizes controls in a way that I’ve never encountered before. It isn’t about setting up some complicated fight system that requires the use of every button in the book, but instead, everything is contextual. If you’re going to throw a punch or kick, simply slide the right stick toward the direction that Jodie needs to kick.

Of course, this means that most of the scenes might come off feeling a bit like nothing more than quick-time events, but when presented in the cinematic styling and pacing that they are, that was the last thing on my mind.

Breaking it down to its most simple nature, the left stick is for movement and the right stick is for interaction with the world. The other buttons — and even the Six Axis motion controls — are used occasionally, but you’re safe keeping your hands solely on the sticks and only moving them when needed. It helps keep players focused on the game, rather than where your hands need to be.

Lighting! Pretty, Pretty Lighting!

Moving past gameplay and story exposition, Beyond: Two Souls is absolutely gorgeous. When playing, it’s hard to remember that this is a PlayStation 3 game and not a next-gen title. It’s beautiful throughout, but its graphical prowess is especially noticeable in the weather and lighting effects.

Two spots in the demo exemplified this perfectly. One took place during a fight on the roof of a moving train — I know, I know — during a horrible rainstorm. Water runs off the side of the train, sweeping into the wind, while drenching the characters at the same time. I found myself constantly moving the character in weird ways just to make sure that it wasn’t some pre-build cutscene. It looked that good.

The second example is after you leave the train and are walking/running through a dark forest at night, with the full, bright moon shining through the trees. Moonlight fell in a way that I have yet to see on current-generation hardware. It was absolutely stunning and something that I’ll be sure to remember for a long time coming.

Lastly, the facial animations are wonderful. This has more to do with the method of motion capture than the animations themselves, but the performances given by Page and Willem Dafoe are absolutely brilliant. At first, I thought that their prowess would pull from the experience, but it ended up selling it even more.

Look Out for Our Full Review

This demo was just a short taste of what Beyond: Two Souls has to offer, but so far, I like what I’ve seen. It deals with cinematic presentation in a way that doesn’t obstruct the gameplay, and that’s hard to do. We’re working on a full review of the game, so be sure to check back when the embargo raises — 8 a.m. PDT Tuesday, Oct. 8.

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