Beyond: Two Souls preview: supernatural horror

By Matt Cabral, Mar 21, 2013 9:15am PDT

Our last extended look at Beyond: Two Souls displayed the title's ability to deliver the sort of high-octane thrills ordinarily reserved for Jerry Bruckheimer films. From its foot chase atop a speeding train to its exploding gas station, the preview provided more adrenaline-pumping moments in a few minutes than Heavy Rain did in its entire running time.

During a recent visit to Quantic Dream's Paris studio, however, the highly cinematic game showed us a decidedly different side; one that yielded a surprisingly strong survival horror vibe, complete with monster-in-closet moments and the reveal of a potentially significant--and possibly supernatural--plot point.

Our hands-on session begins in a car, where stars Jodie Holmes and Nathan Dawkins (played by Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe) chat en route to some sort of top secret research facility. Sadly, we're unable to listen in because, well, Quantic won't let us; their conversation apparently contains major spoilers, so we're not allowed to put our headphones on until they've exited the vehicle and walked to the building. Despite the absence of audio, however, it's obvious the pair isn't out for a casual stroll; walking to the facility--which, by the way, is on fire--they pass heavily armed military personnel as well as some terrified-looking folks in hazmat suits.

At the entrance, Jodie appears to receive some encouraging words and a pat on the shoulder from Dawkins. The scientist then leaves, we're given the go-ahead to don our headphones, and Jodie enters the burning building. With a push of the left stick, we direct her toward an elevator, passing plenty of broken glass, blood stains, and sparking electrical fixtures along the way. The foreboding atmosphere is affective. So much so that we half expect a virally-infected canine to come crashing through a window, Resident Evil-style. When we arrive at the lift, we're introduced to what designer David Cage earlier in the day referred to as a "discreet, intuitive, fluid UI." Like Heavy Rain, Beyond incorporates a fully contextual interface. Unlike its predecessor's potentially immersion-breaking prompts, however, Beyond's inconspicuous cues won't be accused of pulling players from the experience.

The foundation of this seamless, streamlined control scheme is built on players simply doing what seems obvious or natural, with occasional guidance coming from tiny white dots placed near interactions. One such dot, for example, sits near the elevator's control panel; a push of the right stick toward the dot begins an interaction. In this case, we learn the elevator is stuck, leading us to call on Jodie's supernatural sidekick Aiden for help. A press of the triangle button puts us in control of the entity, while using the dual sticks controls the character and camera just as they would in a first-person shooter.

From this perspective, we push Aiden through the door and down to the jammed elevator car below. Upon passing a fresh corpse on the floor, we discover a crate's keeping the door from shutting. We lock onto the object with L1, then pull back and release the two sticks--sort of like shooting a slingshot--to knock the object out of the way. With the puzzle tackled, we again assume the role of Jodie and call the elevator. It still doesn't line-up perfectly though, so we use the DualShock's six-axis feature to trigger her jump down.

With a bit more help from the contextual dots, we access the laboratory level, where a seemingly dead guard uses his last breath to warn Jodie of the danger ahead. The moment provides a modest scare, but pales in comparison to what comes next. As Jodie passes through an air-locked hallway, which wouldn't look out of place among Doom's hell spawn-cluttered corridors, a corpse briefly rises in her wake. Shortly after this shock, she's confronted by the white-eyed stare of another ghastly figure peering through a window. We're told by the Sony rep overseeing our demo that these ghouls aren't zombies, but hallucinations used to convey Jodie's fragile mental state.

The corridor's exit door is locked, but we're again able to exploit Aiden's ethereal skills to pass through it and open it from the other side. Now in the bowels of the research lab, Jodie discovers a corpse and we're introduced to Aiden's ability to channel the last living moments of the dead. Upon aligning a pair of glowing blue orbs hovering above the body and then tethering them to Jodie, we see a flashback of the man's grisly end; the brief, black and white cinematic is difficult to decipher, but it's obvious his death was delivered with swift violence.

Following a short puzzle, which sees Jodie and Aiden collaborating to remove a ceiling grate and navigate a ventilation duct, we get a clearer picture of what felled this unfortunate victim. Now navigating a room engulfed in flames, we utilize our Aiden to tap into the final moments of a fireman's life. The potentially story-spoiling scene (you've been warned) sees the firefighter and his partner brutally slain by piercing tentacles; you know, the sort of snaking, spiky limbs usually used to scare our pants off in sci-fi horror films.

On top of this nightmarish reveal, the flashback displays the location of a fire extinguisher dropped by one of the men while having his ribcage rearranged by the ... monster? Leveraging this intel, we have Aiden push the object through a wall of fire, toward Jodie's feet. We extinguish the flames, but our progress is halted by a plate glass window. We toss a chair through the glass by gesturing the controller to the right three times, but we're told we could've also overcome the obstacle by having Aiden hurl a table through it.

We're asked to relinquish our headphones and controller just as a screaming man, engulfed in flames, flails and falls before Jodie. It's an abrupt end to a largely linear and directed demo. Its affective horror vibe, intro to fresh mechanics, and imagination-piquing narrative beats, however, already have us anxiously awaiting our next outer-body experience with Beyond.

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