Beyond: Two Souls is the latest game from Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit developer Quantic Dream. The original story follows Jodie Holmes - played by Juno actress Ellen Page - over a period of 15 years, showing how her connection with a powerful, paranormal entity shapes her life as she matures from a child to a young adult.
While the two games share similarities, Heavy Rain is described more as dark theatre - similar to something like Se7en - while this is something more unique, a balance of those choice-driven moments and branching pathways, and a stronger focus on action sequences as Holmes is relentlessly pursued for her unique ability and the devastation it can cause.
Holmes has a constant physical link to an invisible entity that she's named Aidan. While she's not quite sure what it is, the spirit embodies emotions that help and hinder her, protecting her against threats but also getting into some mischief. While it's a strange and mysterious ally, it's not a threat - at least to her.
Controlling a mischievous, powerful entity
The E3 demo shows 23-year-old fugitive Holmes on a train as it careers through a stormy night, and reveals the most unique and interesting mechanic in Beyond. At certain points, players will control Aidan and interact with an enclosed sandbox environment to solve puzzles that help Holmes progress.
At this point, Holmes is asleep, so Aidan becomes restless and mischievous. Using the SixAxis controller, you can freely float through the air and interact with certain highlighted elements, such as coffee cups on chair rests or newspapers to freak out passengers, done so by pressing the analogue sticks.
It has far more practical uses than scaring people, though. The train makes an unscheduled stop at a checkpoint, and policemen come on board in search for a woman of Holmes's description. While you wait, Aidan can travel through the window and go outside, listening to conversations about what they're looking for. Inside, Aidan has to knock a bag from the above shelf onto Holmes, waking her up and starting a chase sequence.
Chases evolve Heavy Rain's quick-time sequences
From here we now witness another part of Beyond's gameplay, chase sequences - an evolved version of what we saw in Heavy Rain. Running down the train, Holmes must leap over bags, slide open doors and run past drinks carts using quick-time style button prompts.
Quantic Dream founder David Cage is keen to stress that these aren't 'quick-time events' in this game, and rightfully so, since throughout all these sequences you'll have complete control over Holmes and the direction she goes in, as well as having to react to button presses.
While this particular section as well as fighting pursuers on the drenched, speeding train roof above with hand-to-hand combat are both linear, the subsequent chase through the forest is more sandbox and open, allowing players to decide their own route through trees and muddy, sodden trenches.
Similar to Heavy Rain, it's said direction through these more open areas, and success and failure of the button sequences, can lend to different story outcomes and the areas you arrive at.
Aidan shows his protective and malevolent side
The final half of the demo was a stronger showcase of the puzzle-like sections where you control Aidan, highlighting his power and the devastation he could cause. With Holmes situated at a roadblock and out of view, Aidan was used to possess a policeman, making him step into a vehicle and absent-mindedly drive it back and forth, smashing against barriers and distracting other agents as Holmes slips past and rides a motorcycle away.
The final section was situated in a town center. With Holmes injured and surrounded by armed police and SWAT teams, Aidan had to protect her by going from group-to-group and manipulating them.
Snipers could be possessed to kill their own men and cars could be flung into the air, while a pursuit helicopter spirals down into the crowded street below. It also seems that Aidan can also just crush people through sheer force, too.
These sections with Aidan are said to offer multiple solutions for escape, allowing players to tinker with the options available and see what works. Mechanically, however, it's uncertain how free it will be, as the objects and people you can manipulate are highlighted for you, and from there it appears to show a set sequence and outcome, before taking you back out and allowing you to tinker with the next element.
Of course, it could be the prioritisation and choice of these elements that defines the outcome, rather than what is done individually within them, tying into the branching pathways and different routes that Beyond will offer.
Heavy Rain proved to be one of the medium's more impressive narrative showcases that we've seen, and Beyond looks to take that a step further as it observes a character undergoing a period of maturity and change in unique circumstances.
While the direction and freedom of certain mechanics is uncertain, exciting and intense action and Ellen Page as a convincing lead make Beyond one of the most captivating games we've seen at this year's E3 Expo.
Beyond: Two Souls will be available exclusively on PS3 in 2013.