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Beyond belief: Why Quantic Dream's new game is the studio's most ambitious yet

CVG visits the Paris studio to take a closer look at David Cage's final PS3 project

So, the cards scene. A fairly disturbing ten minute segment that will explain everything you need to know about Beyond; how it plays and feels, its ambitions, its problems, its underpinning themes.

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We'll get to that in a moment. First some context: The critical and commercial triumphs that followed Heavy Rain have brought an unmistakable confidence to Quantic Dream. This is a studio that no longer needs to argue the virtues of interactive narratives but one that can just point to its awards collection.

The next step was always the big question. Would the studio rest on its laurels, rinse and repeat, hoping that success would also be replicated? Or would it take a risk, double or nothing, trusting that bigger ideas lead to bigger rewards?

When CVG visited the Paris studio on Wednesday, Beyond was discussed and presented with a level of ambition that bordered on the problematic. Designer David Cage said his dream is to make Beyond "unique and innovative, but also epic and spectacular".

It's the sheer quantity of goals that hits you more than anything. Cage wants Beyond to cover fifteen years of protagonist Jodie's (Ellen Page) life, across a variety of locations around America - from suburbs to city hospitals to homeless shelters to woodlands and even the sparse "Old West" feel of the America outback (yes, complete with horse-riding).

A staggering 23,000 animations have been created (Cage said he doesn't want any characters to look or move too similarly) while the team has painstakingly designed about forty different versions of Jodie spanning the age of eight to 23.

Meanwhile, another team at Quantic Dream has rewritten the game's engine to the point that, Cage assures me, will heighten the graphical fidelity "to a different level" than Heavy Rain. We're not so convinced about that last claim, or at least the extent of it; the non-uncanny character models in Beyond will undoubtedly be remembered as a significant achievement in the current generation of console technology, but so will Heavy Rain's.

There's also an ambitious new combat system that features no UI and works solely around the PS3's right analogue stick. Say if an opponent is swinging a right-hook, the player will need to press the stick against the direction of the punch in order to block and parry. The same goes with attacking: The camera gets right inside the action and Jodie's legs and fists will follow the direction of the analogue stick.

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This concept of controlling actions with one stick is extended across the game. Whilst in Heavy Rain nearby objects were assigned their own button, with Beyond the UI has been purged and now everything has been minimalised to a single dot. Say if it hovers over a fridge door, press right on the analogue to open it (as suggested in real life) and left to close it.

As the title suggests, there are not one but two characters held at the centre of the game. Jodie's gift (and curse) is an ethereal connection to an invisible poltergeist-like character named Aiden, who can be activated and controlled at the press of the triangle button. Here, Beyond switches from the familiar third-person adventure game into a first-person puzzle (players will often need to clear a pathway for Jodie to progress). The assumption is that Aiden would be a trusty tool like Link's Navi or Banjo's Kazooie. Aiden is no such thing - it can be angry, possessive and often the source of Jodie's problems.

"Oh, and one more thing," Cage says during a presentation set within his motion capture studio, "there will be no more QTEs in this game".

This claim felt slightly strange: The new demo that CVG played had flashed up X button and Sixaxis prompts on several occasions. Perhaps the definition of QTE is ambiguous these days, but by our standards they're still in the game (that's not to suggest there was anything to dislike about the QTEs; they worked fine, didn't obstruct and made sense).

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But it was debatable claims like this that cast scepticism over other features that Cage says will make his new project stand out. Sometimes the aspiration in his rhetoric can feel like hyperbole. But Cage's ideas always tend to make more sense on screen than on paper; the man has an exceptional talent for understanding how a video demo should do all the talking.

Cue lights dimming, Cage stepping aside and a big projector screen displaying the first of three demos shown to CVG yesterday. The first starts with an eight year old child looking over a set of five cards and ends with someone being strangled.

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