Archives for posts with tag: Fahrenheit

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.

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.

Today I’m focussing on Sony’s showing at E3, so first some words about their conference, and then onto the games!

Sony
Sony’s conference was as up and down as Microsoft’s, but had the virtue of being bookended by two upcoming new IPs; Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls and Naughty Dog’s The Last of Us. Unfortunately, it sagged massively in the middle – not good when you’ve sat up until 2am to watch it – when Andrew House came out on stage to talk about their new augmented reality book project, Wonderbook. Entirely too much time was devoted to this, which could have been allocated to the Vita; Sony essentially hung the handheld out to dry, finally announcing PSOne Classics support, showing Assassin’s Creed 3: Liberation, and… not much else.

Like Microsoft, they also spent time talking about apps and mobile, specifically the change in name for the Playstation Suite to Playstation Mobile, and news that they’ll be bringing it to more Android devices via a partnership with HTC. God of War: Ascension was also shown off in single-player form, and… well, it was God of War, but now with added Elephant Men…

Beyond: Two Souls
David Cage took to the stage to introduce his team’s new project, and after the now-customary talking-up of his own studio, he began to tell us about the premise behind Beyond: Two Souls. “Death is the biggest mystery of mankind,” he tells us, before going on to introduce the character of Jodie Holmes, who has always felt a link to some unseen entity, a spirit, perhaps, existing between our world and the next. The game will take place over fifteen years of Jodie’s life, as she begins to discover more about what lies beyond.

Cage goes on to tell us who will be playing the lead role of Jodie in the game. “I was looking for a talented young actress, someone who could embody Beyond’s lead role in a very unique way,” he told the assembled throng. “So… Ellen Page?”, I thought to myself. “I am proud to announce that Jodie Holmes will be played by Academy Award nominee Ellen Page,” he confirmed. Yep. Saw that coming. With that out of the way, Cage introduces some footage from the game, pointing out that everything we see is real time.

In the cutscene, we see a police officer attempting to talk to a non-communicative, shaven headed Jodie. It’s graphically very impressive, particularly the facial animation and lip-synching which, while not as accurate as LA Noire, seems to be quite spot-on. The sense of atmosphere is also well realised, with oppressively dim lighting and sparse sound design. Our cop friend tells Jodie he found her in the middle of nowhere, asking if she was in an accident, but she gives him nothing, and simply stares blankly ahead.

As he walks around Jodie, he notices what seems to be a scar on the back of her head. As he approaches, a coffee cup flies from the table to smash against the far wall, as if telekinetically thrown or flung by a poltergeist. Visibly shaken by this occurence, the officer decides to leave the room to check missing persons lists. He tells Jodie he’ll be right outside, and as she sits alone in the interview room, she remarks to some unseen individual, “I know. They’re coming.”

Outside the room, a heavily-armed SWAT team enters the police station, weapons raised. It’s clear they’re here for Jodie. As they take up position, the man in charge motions for the police officer to open the door to the interview room. Unfortunately, we don’t see what happens next as the screen fades to black, but we are treated to an action-packed trailer depicting Jodie on the run from soldiers. It appears that possessing enemies will be a central game mechanic, as we see some kind of spectral energy entering a soldier, whose eyes then turn white. Another scene shows Jodie being shot at while some kind of shield seems to be protecting her from harm. The trailer ends with our protagonist standing over the SWAT commander, telling him to leave her alone, or she’ll “kill everyone”, before remarking to her unseen partner that she thinks they get the message.

I must say I’m more interested in Quantic Dream’s latest than I was in Heavy Rain, mostly down to the supernatural edge, but I’m still a bit skeptical. I don’t know what to make of Quantic Dream and David Cage; I get that they want to create filmic, interactive narratives, but I just don’t know if I’m sold on the execution. Regardless, thematically and visually, the game looks fantastic, and I’m hoping there will be more gameplay meat on those narrative bones. We’ll have to wait and see, but at the very least, Beyond: Two Souls is on my radar.

See David Cage’s E3 presentation below.


*Editor’s note: The video has a slight blip at around the four minute mark. I looked around, but they all seemed to be the same, so apologies for that*

Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls is currently slated for release in Q1 2013.