Games, movies, it’s all just art.
Never before has a video game experience been so hard to put into words. As a movie, Beyond: Two Souls is probably one of the most beautiful experiences to hit a screen this year. As a video game, it’s probably one of the strangest things you’ll play this year.
Game Developer, Quantic Dream have pioneered the interactive drama with a resume that includes the critically acclaimed Heavy Rain. Beyond: Two Souls is a look at fifteen years in the life of a young girl named Jodie, who happens to be tethered to a poltergeist named Aiden. That’s really the games only consistency. The games sequence tries to follow a non-linear Quienten Tarantino style of storytelling, but it only serves to make players feel alienated and lacking in control. So much of the most dramatic parts of the story hit you too early before you have a reason to really invest in the character. However, the game’s plot would still have the same effect if it were told in chronological order, because it jumps too many genres ranging from horror, sci-fi, action, conspiracy.
However, you will find moments in the narrative that just sparkle and give you a reason to keep playing. The best moments you’ll find very polarizing from the action of her daring escape off the train; to Jodie simply agonizing over what music to play at a party. It shows the potential of Jodie’s character to be the hero we need and still be down right relatable to us. Only because we can connect with Jodie does Beyond succeed instead of being the utter disaster it could have been.
As we said before this story is about Jodie, and we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention how brilliantly Ellen Page brings her to life. It’s probably her most sincere performance in a role since she played Juno. You’ll also find Academy Award nominated actor Willem Dafoe in the game, although the way his handler character is written it feels as not much more than him doing the Green Goblin again. He’s crazy but crazy in a way that’s methodical. Though in the end both are fantastic examples of fleshed out character.
The problem we all had with Quantic Dream’s previous endeavor into drama, Heavy Rain, was its control scheme. Beyond: Two Souls has tried to learn from their mistakes by building a more streamlined control, even going as far as to ditch quick time action buttons in favor of stick movements. Most of the fighting you’ll do as Jodie involves Stick movement; kicking, punching, dodging are all reaction movements you only have a limited amount of time to execute. When you use the controls they feel more intuitive and for those who want to try a new control experience can try using an iPhone.
Where players will invest themselves the most is in control of the entity known as Aiden. Here is where you’ll do the lion’s share of interaction with this unique world. With a press of triangle you’ll be propelled from Jodie into a first person view that can pass through walls, possess certain enemies, move items and feed Jodie information through their psychic link. It’s clear we’re suppose to feel like we need to be Jodie’s overprotective father through Aiden’s lens. Had the game gone a route where we played as Aiden more than Jodie it could have felt that way. However that was not the case and Beyond went the opposite route instead.
Games like these are sold on the gimmick of choice and making the player feel as though they have some control over the outcome. Here choice is a constant tug-o-war between what players will decide and what has already been set forth by Quantic Dream. We have a say in how Jodie’s date will end but she was always going to leap off the train no matter what and couldn’t be killed. The choices gamers get in the game feel small in comparison to what’s going on in this captivating narrative.
When you break it down, Beyond: Two Souls is a story of two worlds; the video game world you play through and then there’s the world of the story you’re simply a spectator in. As a game it doesn’t succeed in immersing you as a player because it’s missing that level of interactivity that distinguishes it from any other medium. As a story that we’re audience to; it takes chances and stumbles a bit in some places but flat out shines in others. If you don’t mind giving up some control over your game in favor of story Beyond will satisfy, but if you’re looking for off the rails action you control then this may not be for you.