David Cage and Quantic Dream have become known for delivering cinematic games with rich, mature storylines and unique control schemes. Many would argue that they are barely games, that they are more point and click interactive movies, and in a sense they would be right. But there is a little more to them than that, and the games like Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain might be better served being described as interactive experiences. Cage certainly brings his love of cinema to these titles, and he does so again with his latest, the genre melding action/spy thriller/sci-fi/ ghost story/drama Beyond: Two Souls.
Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie Holmes (voiced terrifically by Ellen Page) who is connected to a spiritual entity named Aiden. Jodie doesn’t know where Aiden has come form, only that he’s always with her, both protecting her and causing her a fair amount of fright. Jodie’s abilities catch the attention of paranormal researcher Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe, great in the role), who becomes her mentor after her parent s turn her over to a government run research facility. The story is told out of chronological order in a series of vignettes, giving us glimpses of Jodie’s life over a fifteen year period. We see her as a small, frightened child, a rebellious teenager, and a young woman who has been recruited by the CIA due to her extraordinary abilities. It’s a story that’s best discovered for yourself, and I won’t spoil any of it here. It does cross genres along the way, touching on horror, sci-fi, and spy thriller themes. It might all seem like a mess, but Cage skillfully weaves the pieces together to make it far more coherent than you might have guessed. Where it leads depends entirely on the player, as your choices affect which one of the multiple endings you receive (it’s been reported that there may be as many as a dozen endings, much like Heavy Rain).
Much like Heavy Rain, you will never see a “Game Over” screen in Beyond: Two Souls. Miss a prompt, and the game continues along, simply pushing you to a different path. Failure in combat may lead to you being captured in one playthrough, necessitating using Aiden to aid your escape, while in another playthrough you may soundly defeat your foes, only to lead to a greater altercation down the road. In addition to this, you’ll also receive at times choices for how you respond to a conversation, As with Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead, your time is limited to make a choice, lending a slight urgency to the proceedings. These choices can carry over throughout your run, affecting the ending you see. Some choices carry a bit more weight than others, but it is fun to see how things play out when you give a different response.
Controlling the game works well for the most part, and it’s here some will have issues in labeling Beyond: Two Souls a game, as things mainly boil down to QTEs outside of using the left stick for movement and the right stick for looking around. Most actions require moving the stick towards the bright white dot on the screen, which will cause the character to interact with an object. Other times you may have to hold and press two buttons in succession, though the longer chains from Heavy Rain are mostly missing here, which is an improvement. In combat and action situations, time slows down, requiring you to flick the right stick in the direction Jodie is moving. It can be difficult to nail everything perfectly, since sometimes it can be difficult to see which direction she is going, but it works a majority of the time, enabling players to help Jodie stand her own against foes. A press of the Triangle button switches you over to Aiden, which becomes necessary throughout the game. You can play two player co-op as well, with one player controlling Jodie and the other controlling Aiden.
Moving Aiden is simple enough, as he uses the same controls for that as Jodie. Interacting with the environment is a bit different, as you need to look for a bright blue dot, and then manipulate the sticks in the direction indicated onscreen for Aiden to do things like move objects, blast open doors, possess people, and even outright kill any enemies that threaten Jodie’s life. You can switch between the two for most of the game, but there are parts where Aiden cannot be accessed. These parts do make sense in context of the story, so that’s not an issue. Aiden can also battle other entities, black shapes that attack Jodie in several scenes. In those scenes the tension is suitably ramped up, though I never felt that Jodie was going to die at any point. That doesn’t mean those parts weren’t suspenseful. They were. I just felt confidant using Aiden that death was not a huge worry, unlike with Ellie in the Last Of Us and Lara in the Tomb Raider reboot. Despite this, Cage did a fine job keeping us on the edge of our seats at times, and while Jodie may be safe from her imminent demise, others could still be in jeopardy.
There are plenty of characters that Jodie meets throughout the game, and in another improvement over Heavy Rain, faces convey more emotion and the voice acting is superb across the board, especially from Page and Dafoe in the lead roles. Aiden never speaks, instead emitting a distorted type of sound that sounds like it would come from an unearthly presence. Graphically, this is a beautiful looking game, and motion capture was well utilized to capture both the actors’ movements and expressions. The story does have its share of emotional moments, and it’s a testament to the strong writing that you can feel for characters even with limited screen time.
With all of its strengths, Beyond: Two Souls does have the occasional misstep or two. A vignette about a dinner date proceeds a bit awkwardly and lasts too long, and there’s no way to adjust the brightness for your TV (a couple of scenes are quite dark). With the story being told out of order, some may never feel the connection to the characters or feel an overall purpose to propel them through the game. For those that can adjust to the unorthodox method of relaying the story they should find it to be quite satisfying, and everything really ties together as you uncover more parts along your progression though the game. One playthrough could take you around ten hours or so, which sounds short, but this is a game with replayability built in. It gives you enough leeway that two different players may experience two different scenarios on the same mission, but never so much that it all becomes unwieldy.
All in all, Beyond: Two Souls is another strong entry into 2013’s line-up of story driven games. It has a strong and likeable protagonist in Jodie, a compelling narrative that takes you across genres, and great graphics and voice acting. It won’t be for everyone, but for those willing to take the journey should find it to be a fantastic experience that explores what lies on the other side, and one that may stick with you for days to come.
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