Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
We are all fascinated, as a species with the concept of life after death. The supernatural and the paranormal are something that comes across as universally interesting to us, mortal beings. David Cage, the writer and director of Beyond: Two Souls, is a man who has tapped into this primal curiosity in a profound way with his latest release. Cage and the team at Quantic Dream have once again brought us something entirely different and unique. With each release, I can see them inching closer to creating the masterpiece that will forever etch them into video game history. Is Beyond: Two Souls that masterpiece, the ultimate union between story and gameplay that Quantic Dream strives to create with each new release? Not quite, but it certainly gives us a glimpse of where gaming could, and should go.
Story: “Struggling to make all the pieces fit.”
Beyond: Two Souls stars Jodie Holmes, played by Ellen Page. Willem Dafoe also highlights the star studded cast as the character of Nathan Dawkins. The game’s story revolves around Jodie, a girl who was born with a mysterious entity attached to her. A spirit of sorts named Aiden. In the game, the story is presented to you in an incredibly fragmented and disjointed manner. This is no accident, the game means to jump between various events across fifteen years of Jodie’s life.
Each chapter of Beyond is new and exciting. In one scene, Jodie is a little girl, being subjected to tests that help her doctor, Nathan, better understand the entity that is attached to her. In the next chapter, Jodie may be in her early twenties, on the run from the law for reasons you have yet to ascertain. This constant change in both scene and tone makes for an exciting level of pacing that keeps you engaged.
On the downside, the fragmented structure of the story doesn’t give you enough time to truly appreciate some of the tertiary characters. Certain people are only on screen for a few minutes before the game jumps forward, or backward in time. I would have liked to see more consistent parameters for the games sense of flow. I think the fragmented idea is good, but the length of the chapters and the sheer lack of any structure makes it feel for a time that the game is simply throwing you around like a pinball to the various events of Jodie’s life.
Luckily, the story does begin to piece itself together as the game crosses the halfway point. You begin to understand correlations between scenes and you start to form a mental timeline of Jodie’s life. Beyond is ambitious in this regard, it covers a massive scope across a variety of locations and deals with events far beyond (pun intended) Jodie’s personal character. For this, I commend David Cage for creating a story that is greater than the sum of it’s parts, with a powerful resolution.
It is also worth noting that Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe deliver incredible and emotional performances that would fit perfect in a big budget hollywood film. Even though some of the lines fall flat and certain elements are awkward, the overall package that Beyond: Two Souls delivers, in terms of story, is a fantastic one.
Gameplay: “The balance between control and consequence.”
Anyone who has played Quantic Dreams previous games such as Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, knows that these games fall into a genre that is best described as “Interactive Cinema.” With Heavy Rain, players were given a lot of choices and consequences to go along with them. As of late, other games have begun utilizing this unique method of storytelling. The Walking Dead from Telltale games is another example of this blend between cinematic storytelling and giving players control of the story.
In Beyond: Two Souls, the controls have been simplified in some places and over complicated in others. There are some truly unique mechanics at work, but they are bogged down by other less successful endeavors. For example, in the game players can switch between controlling Jodie and controlling her attached entity Aiden. For more than one player, two controllers can be used, giving a second player the option to control Aiden. In these moments, you are able to fly through the environments, even passing through certain walls. As Aiden you can move objects, throw items, heal or even kill certain people. In certain situations, Aiden can even hijack a body and give you control of a character for a time.