Note: We've played Beyond: Two Souls and watched a further hour of gameplay leaving us in no doubt that this is going to be one of PS3's most memorable games. But we're also in no doubt that telling you exactly what we saw, blow-for-blow, would diminish your enjoyment of the story. So this particular preview will not reveal any major spoilers for the plot. We’ll bring you more content soon that will discuss other things we saw, but there's a heck of a lot still to talk about without spoiling anything. So read on without trepidation. We've got your back.
Despite similar production values, overall look and coming from the same design team, Beyond: Two Souls is a very different game to Heavy Rain. And -- dare we say it -- a much more interesting concept to boot. The main reason for that is the vast potential opened up by having direct control of two very different characters and the ability to switch between them at any time. Oh, and one of them is essentially a ghost.
After watching an hour of gameplay taken from different parts of the game, we were given a 15-minute section to play, set inside a burning laboratory. Controlling lead character Jodie Holmes (played sublimely by Ellen Page) is deliberately simple – you move with the left stick and use the right as a context-sensitive action button. This can be anything from pushing it up to stand up from a crouching position, or pulling back to open a door. It’s third-person and deliberately slow-paced for much of the time,
often slowing movement to walking pace to allow you to take in the
exquisite level of detail in the hyper-realistic environments and enjoy
the full-body motion-captured acting.
But the second character is where things get surprising. Referred to by the developers as ‘the Entity’, Jodie refers to it as ‘Aiden’. It’s a name Jodie has always used for her ghostly companion, but doesn’t know why. In mechanical terms, this ethereal presence gives you full twin-stick FPS-style controls in 3D space, played from a first-person perspective.
This allows you to tilt the camera to look at the floor, walls or ceiling… and then fly right through them. With no physical form, Aiden is not confined to physical rooms, although he is tethered to Jodie by a band of energy that you can see while you’re in Aiden-Vision, where the normally-realistic colour scheme is swapped out for greyscale.
While playing like this, coloured auras surround other characters (both living and dead) and objects of importance are highlighted. More literal icons (bright, white dots) indicate elements of the scenery that you can interact with, at which point pushing L1 brings up two more white dots. These can be moved with your analogue sticks, allowing you to physically interact with the game world. Tables can be grabbed, pulling them closer before smashing them forward to break glass doors, for instance. And yes, people can be strangled. But while you may have control over Aiden, Jodie does not -- and that's made perfectly clear at several points.
Notably, you can also drag memories from corpses. While traveling through the burning lab we delve into the final seconds of life experienced by many of the victims we find. It's done by combining the two white dots and dragging the gas-like aura towards Jodie’s head -- this then triggers a flashback sequence where you get to witness each unfortunate soul’s untimely demise in the moments leading up to the fire. The possibilities offered by this supernatural mechanic elevate this beyond Heavy Rain’s scope for both drama and storytelling.
While the concept is strong and the puzzle-solving element of using Aiden to navigate through burning rooms makes this immediately feel more like a video game, the gameplay is comparatively simplistic in terms of what you actually do. It’s more interactive and immersive than a point-and-click game, but there is undoubtedly an element of that genre present.