Last night in London, Bossa Studios held their second ever Virtual Reality Meet Up. The meet was designed as a way to bring together developers of all sizes who are working on games that use the Oculus Rift.
Over 40 people turned up for the event which was held at the home of Bossa Studios in Shoreditch. The crowd was a good mix of those that are actively developing for the Oculus and those, like me, who have an active interest in what this technology is being used for and what it will become.
As I continue to work my way through Kingdom Hearts: Final Mix via the recently released (and brilliant) Kingdom Hearts HD 1.5 ReMIX, I have had several thoughts. Most of them relate to how awesome it is to be able to play one of my favourite RPGs again without the graphical and controller issues that make the PS2 incarnation a challenge nowadays. Some few were along the lines of “Wow, the text in this game is a lot bigger than I remember it” or “Oh bugger, now I have [insert Disney song here] stuck in my head for the rest of the day”. But one underlying thought was always my utmost wish that Square-Enix would follow up with a re-release of Kingdom Hearts II in the same vein. Lo and behold, on Monday they announced just that.
Hot on the proverbial heels of their previous successful re-vamp of Baldur’s Gate, the fine folks at Overhaul Games have announced this week that Baldur’s Gate II: Enhanced Edition will be making its way to PC and Mac on November the 15th, with Android and iOS versions coming at an unspecified, later date.
This Friday gone I was given the opportunity for an extensive hands-on playtest of Quantic Dream’s upcoming PS3-exclusive title Beyond: Two Souls, and you better believe I jumped at the opportunity. Not only is it likely to be the last major RPG game to be released before the arrival of the next generation, it’s the game that has most caught this RPG-phile’s attention in the rather underwhelming release schedule this year (for those shouting ‘GTAV’ at the screen; I’m not that fussed about GTAV, so bite me).
Being the studio behind divisive titles Farenheight (Indigo Prophecy if you’re American) & Heavy Rain, a significant part of whether you’re going to be looking forward to Beyond: Two Souls is going to be a matter of taste, perhaps more than with most games. Both of the aforementioned titles were narrative-heavy, story-driven cinematic games, heavy on quick-time events and light on direct action gameplay. For many people this was an anathema, a recipe for a tedious and slow plod of an experience. For others, myself included, this was precisely why we loved the games. The focus on storyline and character allowed significant investment in the game events, creating a much more engaging and thought-provoking experience than generally experienced.
The reason I mention this is that Beyond: Two Souls is a game cut from very much the same cloth as its predecessors. If you’re looking for frenetic action, this is not the game for you. However, if you’re looking for engaging characters, interesting puzzles, Tomb-Raider-like quick-time events, all presented in slick visuals, boy to Quantic Dream ever have a treat for you.
There were several demo scenarios available for us to play through, of similar length each, but as my one alone took me near enough an hour to go through start to finish, I only managed to get one played through hands-on, but I got a good gist of the others.
Each took place at a different stage of main protagonist, Jodie Holmes’, life, from her childhood, through her FBI training through to an actual mission in her early teens (the scenario I played). From what I saw of the overall trend across all of the scenarios, character interactions and development promise to be extensive and more realistic that often seen before. Think Bioshock: Infinite gave good character interaction? Be prepared for the next level, that’s all I’m saying. This most likely is down to the way the game was developed. David Cage, the director, shot the game just like a movie, recording the voice acting on set, as the motion capture was done. Indeed, he basically recorded the game as a film and coded the game visuals over the top from what I hear. This makes for about as movie-like a game as I’ve ever seen. While usually loathe to break out the ‘cinematic’ tag, in this case it holds true. This game is just like a movie, but one you can interact with.
One aspect I head a couple of complaints about on the night was the linearity of the game. You go from a-to-b and there’s no open world to explore. The thing is though, that’s not a bad thing. This generation we seem to have this obsession with open-world, and many times it’s detrimental. Open world gaming has its place and in many games is brilliant and appropriate. Hell, I’ve railed on a few games for lack of it, but in games like Beyond: Two Souls it wouldn’t be appropriate. In a narrative-based game such as this, a tight focus is fundamental. The game has been promised to rely on decisions hugely, with over 900 possible endings dependant on your choices. You just can’t have that level of narrative design with an open world; it’s not possible or practical. Put it this way, you didn’t hear people complaining that Bioshock: Infinite wasn’t open world did you?
Visually the game is astonishing. The Quantic Dream team have eked every little bit of power out of the aging PS3 system and it shows, so much so many people, including me I must admit) were surprised it was not a PS4 game. Admittedly the quality of graphical design unsurprisingly varies quite a lot between the main characters and the rest. Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe’s characters both look just like them, down to the pores and wrinkles, but other NPC characters tend to look a bit more generic and less detailed, but such is the way of things. The team can hardly be criticised for pouring extra design effort onto their cover characters.
Gameplay-wise, the game is at its core an adventure title in the ‘walk here, interact with that’ tradition. The theme this time around is Jodie’s ability to commune with her resident spirit Aiden, whose perspective she can shift to, to explore ahead and interact with objects otherwise inaccessible to her. In my game, I had to utilise Aiden to fly down a lift shaft and dislodge an object from the downstairs lift door to allow me to call up the elevator. Simple, but when used effectively it can make for interesting logic puzzles. Aiden is also used to defend against hostile spirits, protecting Jodie in one particular action set piece later on as she scales broken laboratory walkways to get to a central control unit.
The actions are intuitive, using the left and right sticks to move glowing dots on screen. These amount to either pulling back then throwing forward the sticks to push something or pushing them towards each other to squeeze something. While very basic, the variety of on-screen action prevented the repetition from grating, at least in the hour I had to play.
One other notable aspect of the game is that Jodie can recall memories from people to get flashbacks to aid with investigations. This is done through a mini-game where you use your dots to deflect and siphon leaking soul essence into Jodie’s head, something which sounds daft, but in practice is quite immersive.
Another intriguing aspect (which is quite reminiscent of a feature in the upcoming Watchdogs game I previously reported on) is the promise of a bundled app for the game. This app, which is called ‘Beyond Touch (and is available for download now and has making of and other videos included) will be fully interactive with the game and will enable you to ‘play the whole game’ through your tablet. It also appears it will allow multiplayer, by allowing the tablet to control Aiden’s perspective, seeing the world though his perspective on the tablet. If nothing else, this is a chance to experience a feature due to be prominent on many next game titles, but now.
All in all, I’m hugely excited about Beyond: Two Souls. While it may not be everyone’s cup of tea (and if you hated Farenheight & Heavy Rain this isn’t going to covert you), it’s an excellent evolution of the adventure RPG genre and appears to be a fitting denouement to the current generation of RPG titles.
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