'Beyond: Two Souls' is a PlayStation 3 game starring Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe.
The "interactive drama" has established itself as a fascinating niche in video games. The control scheme is usually much simpler, relying more on responses by the player based on the situation at hand. As a result, the value of great storytelling and dialogue becomes even more critical.
Games such as The Walking Dead and PlayStation 3 thriller Heavy Rain -- developed by famed designer David Cage and studio Quantic Dream -- are recent proof of the genre's potential. Now, Cage returns with a new game, Beyond: Two Souls, headlined by an all-star cast including Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. At its best, Beyond elicits compassion from players, yet the story can be too confusing.
The supernatural adventure stars Page as Jodie Holmes, a woman connected to a supernatural entity named Aiden. The plot follows her over 15 years, as she struggles to adapt to life hosting Aiden and seeks answers about her background. Helping her through this journey is Nathan Dawkins (Dafoe), a scientist who studies Jodie's "gift."
Page and Dafoe deliver powerful performances as a young woman seeking normalcy and her doctor who almost assumes a fatherly role. Players watch Jodie trying desperately to fit in with other kids and teenagers, only to watch Aiden foil her efforts. It's easy to feel sympathy for Jodie as she lashes out at Aiden for ruining any chance at happiness.
The actors' work is buoyed by Quantic Dream's astounding visuals, particularly the details of each character. Players easily see the emotions worn on these characters' virtual faces, whether it's Jodie's anger or Nathan's grief and worry.
However, the path players follow with Page is tricky to navigate. It's presented in a non-chronological format, so players witness different events that molded Jodie's life. One instance, she's a kid struggling with her home life. Then, we jump to her training for the CIA before she's back to being a teenager under the watch of Nathan. It's hard to establish a foundation for Beyond's plot because it seems to jump all over the place, leaving players to piece together exactly what's happening. Players explore Jodie's life in the CIA, then we're jerked back to childhood years, then present day, then back to Jodie as a teen. It's dizzying.
Players control both Jodie and Aiden, switching between the two at key points during the game. Fans of Heavy Rain will find the mechanics in Beyond very similar, although a bit simpler this time around. Most tasks involving Jodie require simple flicks of the right thumbstick or button presses. But as a trained CIA operative, Jodie is also adept at combat. When involved in action-based sequences, time slows down and players must flick their right thumbstick in the appropriate direction to correctly respond. For example, when an attacker throws a punch from the left side of the screen, the player flicks the thumbstick left to block.
As Aiden, players wield a fresh set of abilities. He's a spirit on a leash, capable of powerful attacks so long as he doesn't lose connection with Jodie. Blue dots on the screen represent objects open to interaction. Using a combination of the L1 button and the thumbsticks, Aiden can knock over tables or break glasses in typical ghostly fashion, possess a living creature to carry out his work or even choke them to death.
The simpler controls are great for a less experienced player, especially when incorporating the Beyond Touch app. Available for Apple iOS or Google Android devices, the app lets players substitute a smartphone or tablet for a traditional controller, performing tasks with a series of taps and swipes.
But those same controls seem to dull the game's most captivating moments. Games like Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead worked mechanically because the actions carefully matched the drama and the intensity of the situation. Beyond relies on a smaller set of control inputs throughout the experience, so it's easy to breeze through encounters.
There also seems to be a lack of consequence for players. Heavy Rain carried the looming threat that one of its four stars could perish if players weren't careful. The Walking Dead forced players into making agonizing choices over and over again. With Beyond, it seems player choice isn't as impactful.
Despite all its flaws, Beyond: Two Souls doesn't dim the prospects of the "interactive drama." Cage's latest endeavor displayed hints of how engrossing this type of experience can be.
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Quantic Dream
Platform(s): PlayStation 3
Rating: M for Mature
Release Date: October 8
Score: 3 stars out of 4 (equal to a 75/100 on news10.net's scale)
- by Brett Molina, USA TODAY