Archives for posts with tag: Beyond: Two Souls

beyond
Beyond: Two Souls, the latest from Quantic Dream, releases next week but today a short demo has gone live on PSN. It’s the same one that was on the show floor at last week’s Eurogamer Expo (which I briefly wrote about here), a demo I neglected to play at the time. I was waiting to experience it in the comfort of my own home. I mentioned in my EGX piece that the demo seemed overlong, yet when I sat down and played it on my own PS3, it felt quite short – perhaps it was because I wasn’t standing up, waiting for others to finish…

Read on for some (fairly in-depth) thoughts.

The demo gives you two short segments of gameplay to try: The first part, The Experiment, begins with a young Jodie playing in her room before a friendly chap in a white coat comes to collect her. Gaining control of Jodie, you can interact (using R-stick gestures) with a few things in her room, such as a guitar and a doll, and even watch a very strange cartoon on the TV. The cheerful guy keeps reminding Jodie that it’s time to go, so we head for the door.

It turns out she’s been in an observation room in a hospital, and she’s led to another, smaller room where we first meet Willem Defoe’s character Nathan, the man who will be observing the experiment. Jodie is placed in a room at a table with some cards on it, and in a connected room is a woman who has the same cards. The test is to see if Jodie can guess the card that the woman selects. Of course, Jodie has a trick up her sleeve: her connection to the spectral Aiden.

Controlling Jodie feels very similar to the studio’s past games Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain (at least, what I can remember of the latter game’s demo), but when you switch to Aiden with a tap of the triangle button, things feel a bit different: you can float around and pass through certain walls at will, though just like controlling Jodie, anything Aiden can interact with is clearly signposted.

With the correct cards chosen, Jodie is asked to try and move other things in the adjoining room, such as a stack of wooden blocks, some papers and a water bottle. In control of Aiden, you can then act in a more malevolent manner, cracking the two way mirrors, breaking the lights and even flipping over the desk. When I was watching at EGX, I saw many people also attempting to throttle the poor woman that had been taking part in the experiment, which led to the end of the scene. I wondered at the time whether this was necessary to complete the segment, but I’m glad to see that I didn’t have to do that – switching back to Jodie, I was offered an ‘X’ button prompt to end the experiment. Nathan runs in to comfort Jodie, who sits in tears with blood streaming from her nose. He tells her it’s ok, it’s over. She replies that it will never be over.

After this section ends, we meet an older Jodie in training at the CIA and it’s this section that get us used to the directional gesture-based control method. It’s essentially QTEs without prompts; the game begins an animation – say, a kick to the left – and then drops into slow motion to give you time to input the proper direction to continue. This seems to be the way that action sequences will play out, and it extends into the next segment of the demo, where we find Jodie sleeping on a train. We’re in control of Aiden, and we’re able to float up and down the carriage (and even pop outside to catch some wind and rain in the face). Aiden’s paranormal shenanigans eventually wake up Jodie – just in time for her to see police boarding the train. It’s clear they’re looking for Jodie, and she’s discovered pretty quickly. With a few flicks of the right stick, we manage to evade the officers and make it onto the top of the train, and I have to say, with a great sense of speed and some cool rain and wet clothing effects, it looks excellent.

Jodie begins to clamber along the top of the train, against the wind and stinging rain, but the cops are unwilling to give up the chase quite so easily, following her out. We get into a few scrapes, and again we’re inputting directional commands in bullet time. I’m not entirely sure I like these segments; while they’re a step up from massive prompts appearing on-screen (there are still button prompts elsewhere, but they’re fairly small and unobtrusive), it often feels like you’re hitting a direction on the stick to trigger an animation. If Heavy Rain had press ‘x’ to Jason, Beyond seems to be more move stick to progress. Still, the sequences are nicely choreographed. It just feels like you have little real control.

After escaping the train with Aiden’s help, Jodie has to run through a forest, jumping or ducking over and under tree branches, fighting dogs (with, you guessed it, directional inputs) and finally scaling a cliff. This is where the button prompts crop up, though they are mercifully low-key – small, white labels that don’t stand out too much. Again with Aiden’s help, Jodie manages to steal a police bike and speed away, and here we’re actually given direct control of the bike, with the throttle mapped to R2 and movement on the left stick. Unfortunately, we’re stuck on one road with the occasional wide left or right turn to keep us occupied. It feels a bit unnecessary really, as if the developers felt they needed to give the player full control over something, but then limited it to veering left or right across the screen. It’s like a 20th century version of the original Outrun. The segment ends when a cutscene kicks in: Jodie reaches a town, a special forces soldier shoots out her tire and she comes off the bike, scampering away injured before being surrounded by the military types that have ambushed her.

Again we’re shunted into controlling Aiden, and I’m reminded of something David Cage said during his Eurogamer Expo dev session. He said the player could switch between Jodie and Aiden whenever they want. So I press triangle. Nothing. “Help me, Aiden”, screams Jodie. I guess that’s my role for the time being then. I also recall Cage lamenting gaming’s continued reliance on non-interactive cutscenes, saying that he wanted all of Beyond‘s story to come through in gameplay, rather than have slices of game bookended by slices of video. Yet there are traditional, non-interactive cutscenes in Beyond. Hmm…

Back in the game, and we’re in a very one-sided siege scenario. It’s an injured Jodie versus a heavily-armed, heavily armoured special forces team, backed up by a helicopter. But Aiden has little respect for the laws of physics and the natural world and we quickly find ourselves throttling, possessing and otherwise harrying the assembled soldiers. In a cutscene, I spot a sniper atop a building, so as soon as I’m back in control, I make a beeline for him, hoping to possess the poor sap and take out some of his buddies. Instead, Aiden makes him jump off the roof. I guess that works too. After possessing a few more, blowing up a petrol station with a grenade and tipping some cars over, Jodie manages to use the ensuing chaos to scamper inside a theatre and barricade herself within. “Aiden, they’re coming for me!”, she shouts, so I look down on the scene from above. None of the remaining soldiers have moved. I continue to watch. They remain in position, as if waiting for something, some signal that it’s time to move in. “Aiden! You have to do something!”. I guess I’ll try and take that chopper down, then.

Using R1, I float up to the chopper’s altitude and see that the pilot is surrounded by an orange aura. This means he can be possessed (other colours are available: red means you’ll throttle them, blue means you can’t interact at all), so I hold L1 to lock onto him and move the two sticks inward. Sparks fly, the pilot’s eyes turn white. He’s mine. With a single rotation of the right stick and a press of L2, I bring the helicopter crashing out of the sky. Exploding in a ball of fire right outside Jodie’s hiding place, I manage to take out all but one of the special forces soldiers. Predictably, he’s the leader. Another cutscene. Jodie leaves the theatre and approaches the soldier, grabbing him by the collar. “Tell them to leave me the fuck alone,” she says, “because next time… I’ll kill everyone.”

With that, the demo comes to an end, and as I read back over what I’ve written, it seems like I’ve perhaps been a little harsh. I did actually very much enjoy the demo, though it was more for the characters, their performances and the story premise. I like a bit of supernatural drama, and I’m certainly intrigued to find out more about Jodie, Aiden and the link between them. The facial animation is also very impressive – certainly up there with the excellent work done by LA Noire, though mercifully without the somewhat detached-looking body animation of that game – and character’s eyes look incredibly lifelike. More studios seem to be moving toward full-body performance capture (last year’s Halo 4 used it and upcoming Xbox One exclusive Ryse also does), and it certainly leads to a very cinematic, weighty end result. It also means that the actors really get their performance across, and Beyond shines here, with Ellen Page putting an excellent shift in as Jodie Holmes, and while we don’t see Willem Defoe’s Nathan for more than a handful of seconds, I’m sure he’ll be solid too.

What does give me cause for concern is the player’s level of interaction with the gameworld. I mentioned above that if often feels like you’re simply nudging a stick to trigger the next animation (or continue an admittedly well-shot cutscene), and this is what worries me for the full game. Even when you’re interacting with items in Jodie’s room at the start, it doesn’t really feel like you’re truly interacting, more that you’re triggering little vignettes. This concern will be nothing new to fans of QD’s games of course, and it’s clear that the story and characters will be the driving force behind Beyond: Two Souls. And that’s fine; not every game has to be pure gameplay, and if I want that I’ll put Deathsmiles on. I just hope that the story can carry David Cage’s latest opus, unlike that final third of Fahrenheit. Because if the story fails to hold my interest, there’s not that much meat left on the bones to carry the experience. But so far? I’m cautiously optimistic.

WP_20130927_015Now in its sixth year, this weekend’s Eurogamer Expo is currently playing host to Sony and Microsoft’s next-gen consoles. With this in mind, myself and a couple of friends decided to book tickets for Friday 27th September, in an attempt to avoid the worst of the crowds. And then all four days sold out.

I guess it was to be expected: The Xbox One and PS4 may only be a couple of months from release, but many are desperate to get their hands on the new machines and their respective controllers . It’s an exciting time to be a gamer. Unfortunately, with the queues being what they were, we didn’t really get a chance to check out much next-gen stuff, but the focus on the incoming consoles did mean that other titles were relatively ignored. So what did I play? Read on to find out.

Upon entering the exhibition hall, the first thing we did was walk the perimeter and try to get a feel for where things were. We spotted a Lightning Returns: Final Fantasy XIII demo section and decided to head over. This was on the other side:
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Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD! I hadn’t expected to see this on the show floor, so it was a nice surprise. I didn’t play it myself, but I did watch as my two friends both sat down to play. There was, sadly, no sign of a Playstation Vita build so we were served up a PS3 version of a short demo beginning, funnily enough, in Zanarkand at the beginning of the game. The short teaser ended just after Tidus’ arrival in Spira, as he evades that weird ribcage sea-monster thing that you can see in the image below.

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I suppose it’s difficult to tell from an off-screen photo, but the game looked glorious; beautifully sharp, clean and colourful. The cutscenes have also been treated to a nice HD clean-up, and though they could look a little sharper, they are now far cleaner than the blocky, low-res videos that were in the original release over a decade ago. My one niggle was that the motion blur used in the original game (that left streaks behind some moving objects) has unfortunately survived into this remaster. I guess we can’t have everything, and it is a minor issue. More worrying, perhaps, is the continued absence of a Vita version of the game. The handheld would be my preferred format for Final Fantasy X|X-2 HD, so I hope it doesn’t get quietly canned.

Now, I may not have played FFX, but I did sit down to enjoy the Lightning Returns demo. The section that these demos were in was fairly light on people thanks to the new platorms, so it was very easy to simply walk up, sit down, and start playing. But first, I decided to video a friend playing the demo. That video is currently uploading to Youtube, so I’ll write a bit more about Lightning Returns in a separate post and embed the video along with it. The short version? I really enjoyed it.

I did manage to get hands-on with one next-gen game, and that game was Xbox One exclusive launch title Killer Instinct. I loved it.

WP_20130927_007The queue for the Double Helix-developed fighter was mercifully short and we only waited about ten minutes or so. Thankfully, the demo took place in a small enclosed area, meaning we didn’t have a queue of people watching us and scrutinising our every combo. After taking a few seconds to get acquainted with the new Xbox One pad (arcade sticks were also available), we got down to the business of kicking the crap out of each other. We had ten minutes with the game, and as there were three of us we decided on a winner stays on system.

I must say I’d been very intrigued by the game since it was announced at E3, having been a massive fan of the arcade original and its SNES port, and I came away from my quick hands-on very impressed indeed. Killer Instinct is fast, incredibly fluid and solidly impactful. It’s been close to twenty years since I last played a Killer Instinct game, so I was effectively going in blind with this demo, but once I got in control of Jago it took only a handful of seconds to get a handle on his specials and start stringing combos together. When you link a few hits together, the camera closes in (almost imperceptibly; I only noticed the effect when watching my two friends fight) and it really showcases the action, nicely framing the bone-crunching hits.

I mentioned that I’ve been following the game on Youtube since its announcement, and thanks to this I knew how to break a combo; getting that first breaker in brought a massive grin to my face and took me right back to my childhood, an instant hit of nostalgia that helped to make this my favourite game of the day. I wanted to play it again, but unfortunately the queue had grown quite considerably since our initial play. Likewise Dead Rising 3, which was in a similar enclosed space right next door. Unfortunately I didn’t get to play that.

A few words about the new XBO controller: I really quite liked it. It just felt right in the hands; the handles seemed a little more rounded than those of the 360 pad, helping it to sit very comfortably in the palms, and I liked the new sculpted triggers – my index fingers just rested perfectly on them. The shoulder buttons seemed like they might be a bit more of a stretch away from the triggers than they are on the 360 pad, but I don’t remember actually touching them much; once I got comfortable with the pad (which was literally a couple of seconds), I was too focussed on the action in Killer Instinct to think any harder about the controller. This is probably a good sign; if you don’t notice the controller, that’s likely a good thing – it didn’t get in my way during gameplay.

I think the analogue sticks will take a little more getting used to, as they feel quite a bit smaller than the sticks on the 360 controller. I think this is mainly because the ridge of the convex top part of the stick protrudes a little, meaning you don’t generally feel the textured outer edge of the stick. They also felt a bit looser, but they were very accurate for inputting specials in KI – I switched to d-pad at one point, which felt massively improved from the current implementation, and actually preferred the sticks. That is very unlike me. Overall, the Xbox One controller feels like a refinement. Whether I’ll prefer it to the 360 pad in the long run? That remains to be seen, and it’s not something I can say with confidence after ten minutes of use. But the signs are good.

Next, we headed to check out Quantic Dream’s latest, Beyond: Two Souls. I have yet to play Heavy Rain, put off as I was by Fahrenheit‘s final third, but Beyond has grabbed my interest because of its supernatural bent. And though there was effectively no queue (you just waited for a spot and sat down to play), the demo was overly long; we stood waiting for a seat for at least forty minutes, and there were also three demos to choose from. You could easily sit and play the game for over an hour if you so wished, and I’m sure some must have.

When a station opened up, my friend jumped at it. I was happy to watch (the game is out in a couple of weeks, after all), and he only played for about fifteen minutes – enough to get a feel for the controls, which were very similar to Heavy Rain, save for when the player is in control of Jodie’s counterpart Aiden. When controlling the spectral companion, you can glide around almost as if you’re in noclip mode, slipping through walls and interacting with objects to freak out NPCs or, as we saw in another part of the demo, throttle special forces soldiers to help Jodie escape their grasp.

Graphically, Beyond seems a bit of a mixed bag: character models looked uniformly excellent, with convincing facial expressions and eyes that just seemed alive. Certain parts of the environment however, such as the room in which Jodie starts out, were very basic looking. Another demo, with Jodie attempting to escape police officers on a train, did look far better, though that section was blanketed in a heavy rainfall that could help to mask other deficiencies. At the very least, I was intrigued enough to keep my pre-order in place, and we’ll see how it fares in the coming weeks.

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Our next port of call was the over-18 area, which this year was upstairs. Our main reason for this was to experience Titanfall, but the queue stretched from the demo station all the way back to the escalator and it was an expected two-and-a-half to three-hour wait. We decided to check out other things and come back later. Also in the over-18 section was a Watch_Dogs theatre (the game was not playable at the show, unfortunately), Battlefield 4 (which was also burdened with large queues), the latest Wolfenstein game, and a bunch of smaller titles like Yaiba: Ninja Gaiden Z which didn’t require queuing. So we gave Yaiba a bash. It’s certainly got a style of it’s own (though my first thought was ‘cel-shaded Lollipop Chainsaw‘), but it seemed very button-mashy – not what you’d expect from a Ninja Gaiden game, even if it is a spin-off.

After a brief break for beer, food and a look around the stalls, we decided to head back up and join the Titanfall queue again. It was about 5:45 at this point, an hour and a quarter before the end of the show, and we were initially quite positive; the queue was only about half the length it had been earlier. Unfortunately, an EA rep sidled up next to us and told us that, while we were welcome to queue, there was no guarantee we’d get a game as the queue was currently expected to be – you guessed it – an hour and a quarter. Dejected, we decided to stay in the queue long enough to watch a round and it did look fantastically fluid and smooth, and it was great to watch players getting to grips with wall-running, double-jumping and frantically trying to eject from their Titans before they exploded. If only I could have played it for myself.

Any other disappointments? Well, a couple. Firstly, I would have liked to get on Forza 5 (especially as I’ve already pre-paid for it), but it was pretty busy all day. Secondly, Destiny. When we first entered the Expo in the morning, we were all happy to see that Destiny‘s logo was printed on the wristbands. Sadly, the game’s only presence was a model of a Fallen captain flanked by a couple of video screens showing an old demo of the game.
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People were being invited by a couple of staffers to come and have their picture taken with the captain, so I waited until everyone had cleared out before taking my own pics. It’s disappointing that Destiny wasn’t playable, but then I guess it would’ve been another game with a two- or three-hour queue. As much as I’d like to play these games, I’m not willing to spend half a day to get ten minutes on one thing when I could play a handful of other titles in that time. Likewise, I would have loved to get my hands on Bayonetta 2 in the Wii U section, but there looked to be only two demo stations for that game, and the Wii U area was surprisingly busy all day.

I mentioned we abandoned the Titanfall queue after about twenty minutes. So what did we do with our last hour? We hit up the retro section of course! In this area were Gameboys, Game Gears, old Ataris, Super Nintendos, Saturns, PS2s… every machine you could imagine. We made a beeline for a SNES running Street Fighter II Turbo and had a few rounds between us. I of course was undefeated (just like in Killer Instinct earlier in the day), though one fight was incredibly close. Next up, two of us played a 100 CC GP on Super Mario Kart. Neither of us had played the game in close to two decades, so the first race was a comedy of errors, with me coming in sixth place. I managed to get my bearings however and finished the next four races in first, taking the cup in the process. Ok, that’s enough boasting from me! We also grabbed a couple of Dualshock 2’s and jumped into an abandoned Timesplitters MP game, though the Expo came to an end before we could finish the round. I’d forgotten how much fun that series was.

With that, our time at Eurogamer Expo 2013 came to a close. It wasn’t quite the day I had expected before we arrived, but with the benefit of hindsight it was always going to be difficult to get a look at the new consoles. We didn’t even make it into the cordoned-off Playstation area – you had to join a queue just to get in, and then queue for a game separately, which just seemed like a horrible use of time. I still had a lot of fun though, and it certainly got one thing straight in my mind: I’m definitely buying Killer Instinct on launch day.

Until next year, EGX.

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Enjoy a few more shots from the show floor:

If you visit this blog with any regularity, you may have noticed something of a drop-off in content recently. It’s not so much laziness on my part (I promise); more that there hasn’t been much gaming news of late that has interested me enough to comment on.

I suppose that’s the way it goes at this time of year, when publishers are shipping out their big hopes for the Christmas period, and focus shifts from updates on in-development titles to sales numbers. Information like this doesn’t really interest me – I want to write and talk about games, not numbers of units shifted.

And so, staring at my shelves, laden end to-end and top-to-bottom with a considerable percentage of games I may never play (thanks to both the speed at which games drop in price these days, and my own inability to control my videogame spending), I had an idea: Why not write about these games I’m yet to play, and maybe give myself the kick up the arse I need to cross some off of my to-do list? I’m thinking I might do one of these a week, focusing on those titles that are foremost in my gaming regrets. So today, I’m kicking off with…

Heavy Rain
There are a few fairly good reasons why I’ve not yet got around to playing Heavy Rain. To begin with, it doesn’t help the PS3 (or indeed the Wii) that my 360 is my main console – pretty much all my multi-platform games are bought on the 360, and it’s the machine that sees by far the most use. The other two are mainly used for some fantastic exclusive titles, but with 90% of releases these days being mirrored across the two HD consoles, it leaves little free time for me to show the other consoles much love.

Secondly, Quantic Dream themselves are something of an issue for me. Granted, David Cage often comes across in interviews as if he’s convinced of his own importance (though it would be silly to form an opinion of someone’s personality based on nothing more than answers given to questions likely posed to provoke a response), but this isn’t my issue here. No, part of my reticence to play Heavy Rain stems from the one Quantic Dream game I have played: Fahrenheit, otherwise known as Indigo Prophecy.

I often see Fahrenheit used as an example of an intriguing story that utterly squanders its promise, and this is pretty much how I feel about it. The opening third of the game is fantastic, as one of a handful of playable characters wakes from a trance, having committed a brutal murder, and makes an attempt to hide evidence before escaping the scene. Perspective then switches to a pair of cops investigating the very murder that took place at the game’s start, which lends the game an intriguing cat-and-mouse element, with the player taking on the roles of both hunter and hunted.

The middle section sags a little with some questionable attempts at character building, before it all begins to fall apart and the story disappears up its own arse and into the realms of the ridiculous. For me, it was the kind of story development that made me want to flip over virtual tables, and the fact that it utterly destroyed the creeping atmosphere and intriguing premise that the opening hours worked so hard to build made it all the worse. The problems with Fahrenheit‘s story, characterisation and ending has always made me nervous to play Quantic Dream’s follow-up project. Sure, in most games, it’s often easy to overlook elements like this if you’re having fun with the gameplay, but considering how elevated in importance these elements are in Quantic Dream’s work, if those aren’t done right here, there’s not much left.

Perhaps the main reason I’m yet to play Heavy Rain, however, is down to one specific moron on the internet. Back when the game was originally released, a user on one of the forums I used to frequent decided to go around both forum threads and story comments spamming the identity of the game’s ‘Origami Killer’. Another user decided to compound this idiocy by confirming what the first cretin had posted. The story’s premise is discovering the identity (and solving the mystery) of the Origami Killer, so with that ruined,  I felt the game wouldn’t have quite the impact it would have had if I’d gone in completely blind. As it stands now, I’d be controlling one character knowing they’re the one to blame for everything that’s happening, and that’s surely going to affect how I play, and subsequently enjoy, the game. If anyone has access to a Men in Black neuralyzer, now would be a good time to offer its services…

It may sound like I don’t want to play Heavy Rain, but I really do – it’s in my collection, after all, and what I’ve heard from friends sounds promising. Curiously, it might be Quantic Dream’s upcoming Beyond: Two Souls that finally convinces me to stick the disc into my PS3’s drive and finally work my way through it – as excited as I am for that game, I’d like to see how Cage and Quantic Dream’s storytelling and execution have evolved since Fahrenheit caused me such disappointment. And if am to find a significant step up from the team’s last-gen outing, it may even increase my anticipation for their forthcoming title.

Do you have an enormous backlog? Feel free to leave a comment detailing your big gaming regrets, or, alternatively, lambasting me for my own.