By Daniel Rutledge
Featuring entirely motion-captured performances, a complex and compelling narrative and an immensely cinematic set of sensibilities, Heavy Rain was a hit in 2010.
Developers Quantic Dream announced their follow-up at this year's E3, a unique interactive psychological thriller starring Ellen Page.
Centered around questions about what happens after death, Beyond: Two Souls is an ambitious title that promises to take players on a dramatic emotional journey.
At E3 I spoke to Quantic Dream founder David Cage and Beyond producer Ray Khalastchi to find out more.
3 News: Heavy Rain earned many honours for being such an original, cinematic game. Are fans of that game going to enjoy Beyond?
Cage: All the people who liked Heavy Rain will I think love Beyond. It’s everything they liked in it, plus more spectacular action scenes, more emotions, an incredible emotional journey through 15 years of the life of someone.
They are going to be a part of seeing this young girl growing, evolving, learning, accepting how different she is, but also discovering what’s on the other side, what will happen after death.
It’s about separation, it’s about mourning, it’s about all these serious matters that you rarely talk about in videogames. But I think it’s a fantastic medium to talk about all this because you don’t just watch something, you’re the actor having the experience, and that is what makes this medium so unique and so exciting.
There are many new things in Beyond that weren't in Heavy Rain – one of them is that you can now switch freely between the human character, a young girl named Jodie Holmes, and she has a link with this entity. So you can switch between the character and the entity, and you can do all sorts of things that only the entity can do. You’re invisible, you float into the air, you can go through walls, and you can do many, many different things.
Khalastchi: We’ve got the same level of mature storyline, the same depth of characters, the same really great Hollywood production values, but now we’ve just upped the ante a lot, we’ve got a lot more action this time around, and the graphics, the visuals, the gameplay have all been really improved and expanded upon.
3 News: Heavy Rain received some criticism for lack of player control. How similar is the control system in Beyond?
Khalastchi: We’ve evolved the Heavy Rain system in two ways. Firstly, the player controls both the quick time event and the direct control of the character Jodie. So moving around, even though you’re moving around through an area, you’re actually doing the quick time at the same time, so it’s much more involved.
But as well as that, in Beyond you can play as an entity which is connected to Jodie, and that entity has full control with sixaxis. It’s a completely different control scheme from Heavy Rain.
Cage: There are things in common, there are things that are different, but we have much more direct control in action sequences. This is something we really wanted to have in Beyond, more action-driven scenes than there were in Heavy Rain, with the player always in control. The story is never told through cut-scenes, it’s always told through gameplay, and all these spectacular action scenes are controlled by the player himself.
3 News: How happy are you to have Ellen Page involved in the game?
Cage: Oh, I’m incredibly happy to have her, she’s an amazing actress. I was really looking for someone really special for the role of Jodie Holmes because we are going to tell the story of this character through 15 years of her life, and it’s a very intense, very emotional journey, so we needed the right person to embody this role, and Ellen is a dream come true. She’s been amazing.
Khalastchi: It’s been a real honour actually to have such a high profile person, such brilliant talent in our game. She’s been really, really excited about it as well, very deeply involved in the character straight away, and in technology as well. It’s been a real honour to have her onboard.
3 News: Are there any films you drew inspiration from for Beyond?
Cage: I think in Heavy Rain there was a clearer link with dark thrillers like Seven or Silence of the Lambs. But Beyond I think is very different, it’s a very different style, a very different genre, and I don’t think it relates so clearly to anything existing already, whether it’s a movie or another game. So it’s something definitely more personal, it's probably more original, also in the ambience and the atmosphere of the story it tells.
3 News: There was over 20 different endings in Heavy Rain depending on what choices players made during the game. Will there be a similar diverse range of
Cage: Yeah definitely, of course. I mean the narrative structure, the approach to the narrative structure is quite similar in Beyond. You will have different choices that have different consequences, and actually there are not just different endings like was the case in Heavy Rain, there are many different consequences for your choices.
3 News: What is the one thing you're most excited about with this title?
Cage: I’m very excited about my cast. Ellen Page is the first announcement, and I’m so excited she’s there, I think she’ll be brilliant, and I think people will be incredibly surprised by her performance.
She did something incredible, so I’m really proud of that, because most of the time when you’ve got Hollywood actors in games they just give their voice in the sound booth, or their face or their name in a backshot, but here it’s a true artistic collaboration with an actor.
When she came she really respected the medium, she came because she liked the script, and she gave her best on this thing, so I’m impassioned to show what it is.
3 News: You just said she is the first announcement - are there other big Hollywood names you've yet to announce?
Cage: We have many other things to announce in the coming months.
Beyond: Two Souls is set for an exclusive PlayStation 3 release next year.