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  1. Beyond: Two Souls (PS3) $10 + Free In-Store Pickup at Best Buy http://www.bestbuy.com/site/beyond-two-souls-playstation-3/5720702.p?ref=195&loc=0bdb81d1dda14e79a3a6feae3e3bc700&id=1218686494675 Totally worth it for $10. I thought about holding out for a PS4 version but then it'll cost a lot more.
  2. Marcus Estrada

    Review: Beyond: Two Souls

    Developer: Quantic Dream Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment Platform: PS3 Release Date: October 8, 2013 ESRB: M for Mature David Cage is an incredibly diversive man in the gaming community. Some have loved most or all of Quantic Dream“s output, while others have labeled them as ridiculous. If you fall into either camp, it should still be easy to tell that the developer has certainly been refining their output with each new game. From Omikron: The Nomad Soul to Heavy Rain, it“s obvious that Beyond: Two Souls is their most ambitious project to date. But is that enough to wow players everywhere? Beyond: Two Souls is the story of a young woman by the name of Jodie Holmes. Although there are many mysteries surrounding her, we know that she was scientifically observed from a very young age because of a strange power she exhibited. This power is actually a spirit name Aiden and he is mostly under Jodie“s control. At some point, she was turned over to the CIA to begin training with them. After all, her spiritual skills would make her an incredible asset in infiltration and war. None of this is a spoiler, but the hows and whys are. Instead of presenting the story in a “typical” fashion, we“re given insight into Jodie“s world in small chunks. Each memory chunk serves as a chapter and is also presented to the viewer in a nonlinear fashion. Nonlinear narratives are nothing new, but it may surprise some players since it is a tactic not often used with video games. Although there is a point to this narrative device (driven home very rigorously in the conclusion), it doesn“t seem to be the most effective way of getting players engrossed in Jodie“s world. Instead, it feels more hectic and annoying. At least it isn“t very confusing to tell what comes when in her life“s timeline. If you“ve ever played Indigo Prophecy, or better yet, Heavy Rain, then you already have a pretty good concept of how Beyond: Two Souls is played. There is such a great deal of focus on the cinematic presentation that player control is relegated to a simplistic format. Sometimes you can move a character around an environment and interact with specific bits. Other times, you“re mostly tasked with hitting button prompts for QTE events. New to this title is a new type of QTE which shows no prompt at all and hopes you“ll understand the direction to push based off what is happening on screen. For example, Jodie may be running and need to duck under a high tree branch. The game will slow down, signifying this is a moment to press the thumbstick in one of four directions. It“s simple enough to assume that down is the direction to press because she needs to duck. At times, this can become confusing as Jodie“s body moves backwards but her arms move forward, or at other junctions. Jodie is pretty tough, though, and will usually survive through multiple mistakes on the player“s part without repercussions. If you find this frustrating, then turning the difficulty down to “easy” will add on-screen prompts to these sections. Beyond that there are also a variety of choices to make. These are usually related to conversations that Jodie has with other characters. By choosing one, you are possibly tweaking the relationship between the two characters, or simply prying into their lives. Although the point of choices is to change the narrative, it seems that many still result in the same conclusions. For example, early on there is a moment where you can choose to dance with/kiss a boy who seems to like you. Whether you go through with it or completely rebuff his advances, he will still end up calling Jodie a ****. Is this incredibly biting social commentary or the limitations of choice in games? It“s likely the latter. However, because the game does not allow for multiple saves, Quantic Dream has made it harder to immediately compare the differences between choices to see what actually affects plot points. The most notable feature of Beyond: Two Souls is that players control both Jodie and her spirit friend Aiden. Aiden can only be used at certain times, but you“ll know when because Jodie will begin barking orders for him. In this mode, everything is vaguely blurry around the edges and objects that can be interacted with are highlighted. Sometimes it is just objects which need to be pushed or thrown, and other times Aiden can possess or kill humans. Possessions often end up resulting in killing too, but are a bit cooler. There are some out there who discount Quantic Dream“s latest endeavors because they are not enough of a “game”. This is a silly thing to say, of course, but my mind did wander a bit when considering what Cage ended up directing this time around. I kept being reminded of FMV games on the Sega CD and 32X. Back then, developer Digital Pictures (best known for Night Trap) created multiple games which often related to a story playing out that the player had to interact with from some sort of control room. It was hard to not feel the similarities as Jodie called out to Aiden (effectively “you”) for aid manipulating the environment. With that said, it is still an incredibly cinematic experience and is not hindered by its FMV and adventure style. It“s a reminder that maybe these types of games didn“t need to go away after all. As far as calling Beyond: Two Souls cinematic goes, one must also consider the fact that two big name actors are a part of the game. Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are both present, although Dafoe is a secondary character. Seeing Page rendered in 3D is incredibly odd for a while and you can never really shake that it“s her playing Jodie. This happens often with certain actors in films as well, and as fun as it may be, it detracts from the storyline. We aren“t completely wrapped up in Jodie“s tale because all the while we are reminded that this is Ellen Page playing the lead role in Cage“s Beyond: Two Souls. It may be for this reason that it was hard for me to become involved in the narrative. That“s not to say Quantic Dream doesn“t try extremely hard to make you feel for Jodie and her struggles. Oh, they try, and they try hard to appeal to a viewer“s simplest emotions. Everything becomes dramatic to an extreme degree because that“s apparently what Cage views as skillful storytelling. It does seem to be more practiced than any of his previously directed projects, but there is still a ways to go. After all, drama for drama“s sake can work maybe once or twice in a storyline, but is not to be relied upon time and time again. It can easily exhaust the player and effectively drain them of emotional reaction after a while. Another likely result of the famous involvement was that other characters had far less attention paid to them. Almost everything is Jodie, Jodie, Jodie, and by the time the narrative switches back to someone else, it has far less impact. We get to know Jodie, but everyone else is merely an acquaintance. Even after setting my heart on one of the characters, it was with a shock that I realized late in the game I didn“t even know his name. To be fair, the story does have some interesting interludes. Perhaps the most interesting were Jodie“s experiences outside of the CIA. The paranormal stuff as a whole might get a little overwhelming at times, but if Cage has showed anything over his career, it“s that he is really interested in spirits and alternate realities. If you absolutely hate that sort of storytelling then stay far away. However, those who are not biased against ghostly stuff may be able to appreciate the story. Of course, he has also repeatedly shown an interest in “adult” content. His reasoning for this is always to push the medium of games closer to films, which are far less restricted in content than games. However, his method of pursuing this artistic freedom seems to betray his explanation. Players are treated to two shower scenes and both seem to exist to briefly view parts of Jodie“s body, since she herself doesn“t even seem fussed with actually cleaning herself. Instead, she stands around with her eyes closed or leans forward for inexplicable reasons. On the other hand, a possible romantic encounter is incredibly stilted and awkward. Perhaps Cage is still worried that pushing that boundary too far would get his game censored in North America again. Then there's the whole romance aspect of the narrative. Jodie has her choice of a few guys, but it seems very apparent who Cage hopes to pair her with. Unfortunately, the man in question is pretty terrible and gives little reason to make him any more appealing except for the fact that the game constantly gives you the choice to say yes to him and his advances. It's definitely weird and just another example of how player choice is still heavily controlled by the developer's overall vision of how it is supposed to play out. With all this said, there is nothing wrong with players getting invested in Beyond: Two Souls. It is a graphically impressive and well-acted story that takes us to a multitude of locations. Jodie is strong, if conflicted, and it is exciting to see her presented as a capable protagonist. And even if Cage is not as fantastic as he believes his work to be, he is still trying to create something interesting which is more than can be said than most other developers. I could definitely see players attracted to the game for that very reason - it“s something that is rarely available in the gaming medium. But just because Quantic Dream was trying something “new” doesn“t mean they instantly deserve nothing but praise. I appreciate that Beyond: Two Souls exists but the execution leaves much to be desired. If you“re in it for a standard action film-like experience with paranormal elements then this will definitely fit the bill. It is fun and even offers up choices that can be quite hard to make. Still, I couldn“t help but keep running into the borders of the world which showed how much Quantic Dream is still restricted in their presentation. Much of the choice is shallow and gameplay (for those looking for it) is extremely light. But if you“re interested in seeing a bold, imperfect attempt at storytelling in the gaming medium then Beyond: Two Souls is a worthwhile experience. And honestly, most who play it are probably looking for exactly that. Pros: + Gameplay usually serves narrative well instead of getting in the way of it + Jodie“s journey takes many twists and it is interesting to see what comes next + High quality visuals and soundtrack + Has a good deal of replayability if you“d like to see how things play out differently at critical junctures Cons: - Paying attention reveals the many aspects where the game fails at its grandiose goals - Narrative relies on excessive, sometimes borderline silly, drama to strong-arm an emotional reaction out of players - It appears most game choices don“t affect much - People other than Jodie are left undeveloped and feel like types rather than compelling characters Overall Score: 6.0 (out of 10) Decent Beyond: Two Souls strains at the seams of what a video game narrative is “allowed” to be and falters. Still, it serves as an interesting experience which will entice some players with its paranormal storyline, cinematic flourishes, and accessible control scheme.
  3. I'm excited for the Playstation 4. In fact, I still have my preorder set up and ready to go in the event that I change my mind. But I've come into a bit of a problem when it comes to actually purchasing the system. That problem just happens to be the Playstation 3. And time. But we'll get to that in a minute. First we'll talk about what that pesky Playstation 3 is doing to sabotage my interest in the PS4. Playstation Plus Has Given Me A Backlog I don't normally buy video games right when they come out. I'm a spend thrift at heart, and only the most hyped up or story driven titles can get my attention right when they release. This has worked out for me for the last few years thanks to the fact that more and more AAA titles seem to tank in price after the first two weeks of being on store shelves. But in the last year or so, something new came onto my radar. I've still got three years of the stuff left That thing was of course, Playstation Plus. I've only ever actually paid the full five dollars for a single month of the service. Despite this, I'm currently all paid up through Christmas, 2014. Aren't contests just great? The point is, I've got a lot of free games being hurled at me with very little time to actually play them. Of the dozens of games I've already received, I've probably only beaten three of them. The rest? All in my quickly forming backlog. To make matters worse/better, the Playstation 4 will be included in the Playstation Plus service from day one. So not only do I have a huge backlog of unplayed games, but the longer I wait to buy the new console, the bigger of a backlog I'll have waiting for me once I take the dive. Games, Games, Games The fact of the matter is, none of the Playstation 4's launch titles really excite me. Knack looks like a winner and I'm sure I'd play Killzone: Shadowfall at some point, but nothing they're offering at release is really a "must have" title so far. Of course, there are a lot of really big games releasing in the months following the system's release, but those are still almost half a year away. I'm only getting this game for the Willem Dafoe aspect I'm okay with waiting for those. In fact, waiting might even land me a better deal on the console after it releases, and that would just make it all the sweeter when I do go out to buy the console. Until then, the PS3 is here and ready to go, and there are still some pretty big games coming out well into the PS4's release. Games like Grand Theft Auto V and Beyond: Two Souls. While those are the only two releases I'm really hyped up for at the moment, that is still $120 out of pocket for those since I'll be buying them on day one. Not a lot of money considering it'll be spent over the span of a few months, but it is chump change compared to the problems the PS4 would cause for my wallet. Remember Remember, What Comes After November The Xbox One and Playstation 4 are both seemingly scheduled for release this November. Just in time for the chaos brought on by Black Friday to take system sales by the horns and really bring up each competing company's sales numbers right out of the gate. While that is all great for them, it causes one serious problem for me. And that is Christmas. Santa really hasn't been carrying his weight lately I've got a very large family, and each year during the holidays I make it my mission to knock their socks off on Christmas morning. As you might expect, this makes things very expensive for me very quickly. But that isn't the problem for me. The problem comes from me spending half a grand on myself a month before Christmas. I just can't do it. If I did end up buying a Playstation 4 this year, it would end up being a gift for someone else just because of how close to the holidays that the console giants are releasing their systems. Of course, this shouldn't stop you from buying yourself one of the big three later this year, but don't be surprised if you start hearing about more people cancelling their pre-orders as the months drag ever closer. As always, thank you for reading.
  4. Marcus Estrada

    E3 2013: Hands-On With Beyond: Two Souls

    Note: The majority of the article (black text) was written by me, Marcus. The blue text is written by Leah, who added her own thoughts on the game's demo as well. Quantic Dream has found themselves with quite a reputation over the years. Although their first game, Omikron: The Nomad Soul, was a relative obscurity, the developer found themselves getting more and more attention with each following release. Indigo Prophecy and later Heavy Rain were both viewed as interesting achievements in gaming although some definitely disliked the gameplay mechanics themselves. Beyond: Two Souls was a game that we really didn“t know much about before this event aside from the fact that it features two famous actors (Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe) in digitized form. During an E3 trailer, gamers were suddenly treated to images of a firefight within the game. Was Quantic Dream moving away from their methodical QTE-based stories for a more “standard” game? Well, looks can be incredibly deceiving. The demo set up for E3 featured Page“s character, Jodie, working with a child soldier and spiritual overseer to escape some dangerous territory. They are pitted against men with guns who are poised to kill her on the spot if she moves out of cover. Initially I believed I would be able to retaliate with a gun of my own, but that wasn“t the case at all. Instead, the requirement was to make use of the spiritual component of the game. While standing in line and watching people play the demo, I was worried I'd have to participate in some FPS gameplay! It's not that I don't like FPS, but I was prepping myself for some QTE stuff. Like Marcus said, however, that component is definitely still the focus of Beyond. You see, Jodie has a spirit-based link which allows her to see beyond herself. Players can switch between direct control of Jodie or control of the spirit. As the spirit, you can appraise the battlefield as a whole and scope out enemy locations. That“s not all though, as it can also kill or control those enemies. Depending on what you choose to do to each person will change how things play out - at least it seems that way. For example, during my playthrough there was a moment where multiple guards were keeping watch together. It would have been possible for me to strangle them all one by one, but that may have alerted one in the meantime that something was horribly wrong. Instead I chose to possess one to kill the others. This ended up working very well and was kind of cool if also hugely creepy. Although I had been keeping some tabs on Beyond, I had no idea about "Aiden" or having to control him. The first time I had to make use of him in the demo, it was extremely confusing. Moving him and figuring out where to go is awkward. You quickly get used to it, though, and it soon becomes a fun and unique gameplay mechanic. Most of the game still does play out via heavy use of QTEs though. Jodie moves from location to location via analog control as well as button prompts and leaves the game feeling more like Heavy Rain than you might expect despite the “action” stylings. Fighting is also taken care of primarily via QTE and some of it is worse than others. For close encounters, fights will slow down and the player must watch Jodie“s movements. They are meant to move the analog stick in the same controller as her motion is going, but many of these scenes are hard to guess right. It“s quite annoying because, while the idea is neat, the execution is definitely lacking. The slow-mo QTEs in the Beyond demo definitely irked me as well. More than half the time, I guessed incorrectly on what way I had to make Jodie move. Poor girl must have been a bloody mess at the end with how many times I accidentally got her kicked and stabbed. I hope these are made somewhat easier to figure out in the finished game. Overall the game does seem to be doing some interesting things but it also feels like Quantic Dream are unable to craft a perfectly enthralling game when QTEs actually are now causing trouble for the players. As annoying as it can be to see a big button picture on screen it at least lets the player know exactly what they have to do to survive rather than have them guess at a semi-likely solution. We“ll see how much more they tweak of Beyond: Two Souls“ mechanics before it launches in October for PS3.
  5. I'm a rather cheap individual. I almost never buy a game brand new, and when I do I usually find an impossibly good deal before I purchase it. In the year 2013, there will be a grand total of three games that I'll be paying the full $60 price for. Those games are The Last Of Us, Grand Theft Auto V, and Beyond: Two Souls. The problem is that as more and more information comes out for the PS4, the more and more likely Beyond: Two Souls slips into my "maybe" pile of game purchases. Now why might that be? It certainly doesn't have anything to do with the game itself. I'm actually quite excited for the game. I've always secretly been extremely attracted to Willem Dafoe, so his inclusion in the game should have sealed the deal for me. But there's one little thing digging into the back of my mind. And that's the projected release date of the Playstation 4. Things can go one of four ways. The first is that the Playstation 4 doesn't release until November, meaning Beyond: Two Souls will get it's time to shine for a little while. Now, the much more unlikely scenario would be that the Playstation 4 releases in September, allowing Beyond: Two Souls to have some leeway in advertising for October. The downside comes from the fact that it would be a PS3 game directly competing with the Playstation 4 launch lineup. This is the pinnacle of human beauty Or would it? Now, I'm going to be making quite a bit of a leap here, but hear me out. In the first trailers for Beyond: Two Souls, the video would close out with a PS3 logo. With the last few trailers, the videos have closed out with just the Playstation logo. Of course, the newest trailer showed the game being played with a normal Dualshock 3 controller, but maybe... JUST MAYBE the game might be gearing up for a PS3/PS4 release. Its a long shot, but it beats the next possibility. What I'm about to talk about would be the worst case scenario for Beyond: Two Souls. It also just happens to be the most likely scenario. There's a possibility of the game releasing for the PS3 within days of the Playstation 4's launch. I shouldn't have to explain why that's bad, but for the sake of people who don't understand, I will. Just this once, though. Wait... Is Ellen Page dying in this scene? The Playstation 4 is going to be expensive. Probably not on the same level as the PS3's $599 launch price, but it will certainly be putting a dent in people's pockets. If I do end up buying one I'll of course need to buy a game for it, which would add another $60 onto the price at the very least. Then there's the extra controller for multiplayer games. What I'm trying to say is it is going to add up quickly. Then, on the other hand, you have Beyond: Two Souls. A one time payment of $60 for a console you more than likely already have. It's a tough choice for a spend thrift like me, but for someone with plenty of disposable income, you don't really need to weigh your options as much. So let's move on to the much larger problem. Which do you think will get more advertising? On one hand you have a multimillion dollar game made for a system with an already large userbase. On the other hand you have an untested system that has cost hundreds of millions of dollars to produce. And they're both *maybe* releasing at the same time. While I'm certain Sony wants Beyond: Two Souls to succeed, there's absolutely no doubt in my mind that they'll cut advertising space for it to make room for the PS4 launch. We're talking commercials, shelf space, store posters; the whole shebang. Sony is in essence going to be competing with itself if the PS4 releases in early October. And if that means killing any of the hype behind Beyond: Two Souls and the luxurious Willem Dafoe to raise the sales of their newly released PS4, then you can bet they're going to do it. Whatever happens, happens. I'm sure both the game and the system will do well, but would they do better if they were released farther apart? We'll find out when the PS4 gets a solid release date later this year.