The argument of whether or not games can be more than just a
game is something that has always interested Beyond: Two Souls writer and
director, David Cage. He has always advocated that games can be “experiences”
that allow players to travel with a playable character in the carefully
orchestrated worlds he’s created. His and Quantic Dream’s last attempt at
having an interactive journey, Heavy Rain, proved that this dream could be
possible, but could his newest supernatural
thriller accomplish and build on his goals?
Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie Holmes — played perfectly
by Ellen Page (Inception, Juno) — as she grows and adapts to having the
entity, Aiden, constantly leashed to her. The course of the “game” takes place
over more than 15 years of Jodie’s life which is something I was extremely
intrigued to see implemented smoothly. Unfortunately, it is not. The “game” constantly
bounces back and forth through time which if it were presented properly, could
deliver some great “did not see that coming” moments. Movies like Memento prove
that if you present a work of fiction in an intelligent way, it allows for the
viewer to discover the story as bits and fragments are introduced. Beyond can
sometimes feel like there was a “game” put together that went from start to
finish and, like some movies, went into the editing department to be hacked to
the point that the story became a disjointed mess. More times than I’d like to
remember I had to stop and think, “What the hell just happened? How old is
Jodie supposed to be here?” or, “Where does this fit in the timeline?” Those
are questions that should rarely come out of a viewer’s mouth but if they are, should
be addressed accordingly. That isn’t saying that the “game” doesn’t have any
redeemable qualities that warrant playing.
For starters, Beyond’s performances are top-notch as Page,
Willem Dafoe (Platoon), and Kadeem Hardison (A Different World) collectively
show what the future of performance can be as video games continue to progress
as a medium. A large amount of kudos to not only the actors, but David Cage for
getting some truly emotional moments captured in “game”. There was even a
moment or two that really got to me on a deeply emotional level which is
something I rarely feel in video games, let alone other mediums. One of the
most touching sequences can be found in the homeless memory in which Jodie
encounters Stan in a standout performance presented by David Coburn. If there
is one thing to say of Cage, his ability to capture the warmth of Stan, Dawkins
(Dafoe), and Freeman (Hardison) is unparalleled to many video game creators out
there. Hardison’s portrayal of Freeman is also particularly worth noting as
seeing his relationship with Jodie develop and grow was one of the best
interactions shown throughout Beyond. The ability to capture these emotions in
a realistic fashion owes a great deal to the tech powering Beyond.
Quantic Dream’s performance capture studio is easily one of
the best in the business and the engine Beyond is built with provides for some
of the best graphical fidelity I’ve seen on this console generation. Character
facial animations are life-like. The lighting is realistic. Even the particle
effects are some of the best around. If there is anything you can count on it’s
that Beyond does not struggle at looking fantastic. When Aiden uses his ability
to possess or kill powers, the lighting and particles combine for some visuals
that parallel, or even rival, the graphical fidelity of the PS4. Beyond really
is a stunning “game” to look at.
You may have noticed that while reading this review that the
word game is consistently in quotes.
That’s because it is more of a movie or television series than an actual video
game that we’ve become accustomed to over the years. For those annoyed with
Heavy Rain for the amount of interactive cut scenes that were presented, the
chances that you will enjoy Beyond are slim-to-none. Players complete actions
following button prompts and holds, much like Heavy Rain, as well as use the
right joystick to react to Jodie’s momentum.
When in fights or intense situations, time slows down (not controlled by
the player) and Jodie’s direction will shift. At this point players flick the
right joystick in the direction matching her movement. I was actually more
annoyed with this control scheme than actually enjoying it. It was difficult to
see where the momentum was taking Jodie which resulted in a ton of mistakes.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much in terms repercussion as I was being carefully
guided through the experience.
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An unexpected play option called “Duo” allows players to
play with a friend as each player selects to control either Jodie or Aiden.
This mode can be played using either the DualShock 3 or an iOS/Android
companion app. I often think mixing an iPhone with a gaming experience can be
gimmicky, but in the case of Beyond, it can create a very unique experience for
novice and expert gamers alike; sometimes even enhancing the experience since
touch controls with Aiden are simple enough for anybody to join. I would not,
however, recommend controlling Jodie with a touch device as her movements feel
more natural with the DualShock.
Beyond: Two Souls is the last great showing in the strength
of the PS3. There are great moments in the journey, but the overall lacking of
a comprehensive story pulls it back into the realm of experimental. Cage’s
ambition is admirable, but I fear that he may be a better fit in the world of
film and television rather than video games. That isn’t to say Beyond wasn’t a
great experience. I am saying that if Cage doesn’t begin incorporating simple
game features like being able to control the character for more than 5 hours of
a 12 hour experience, the niche consumer base may not be there after his next
project. The potential is there and the pieces to the puzzle are in place, but
the disjointed storytelling and lack of gameplay prevent Cage’s PS3 sendoff
from being something great.
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