REVIEW: ‘Beyond: Two Souls’ Is An Interactive Thriller That’s Underdeveloped

In Beyond: Two Souls, David Cage actualizes his fantasy of producing a game aimed directly at mature adults. But does his latest title expand on video games true potential or simply just blurs the lines?

Available today (Oct. 8), the PlayStation 3 exclusive is a mainstream title that forces gamers to do some uncharacteristic things while engaging in a life-and-death struggle for one’s attention. For those familiar with Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy, you’re standing outside the norm of a traditional video game. As Jodie Holmes (played by actress Ellen Page), gamers control her during various points in her life over the course of 15 years. The basic premise of the story involves her journey alongside a mysterious poltergeist-like companion who’s been tethered to her since birth and is both fiercely and jealously protective of her.

Throughout the game you can delve into why the ghost known as ‘Aiden’ is around you, although it’s implied that the spectral figure doesn’t even know how it came to be. Gamers play as both roles, as David Cage insisted that the adventure should be in one’s own hands (or controller). You’ll decide whether to punish your father for his bad attitude; you’ll use ‘Aiden’ to sneak out to engage in a snowball fight with neighborhood kids and more. Most of the time, you’ll simply point your character at something, pick one of the options given to you, and course through the game using QTE (quick-time events). Similar to Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls restricts players and forces them to repeat mechanisms within a cinematic structure, with objectives propelled by the need to fulfill the event more than the actual needs of the protagonists itself.

Beyond challenges conventionality by creating something that feels like an unfolding novel rather than a level-tiered video game title. Focusing solely on characters and their development (Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe, Kadeem Hardinson), the Quantic Dream production touches on adult themes (rape, abuse, homelessness) and adds the value of a blockbuster film. Mainstream games within the industry rarely dive deeper into these aforementioned topics. They frequently ignore the threads that make up the bulk of their players’ lives. Beyond: Two Souls manages to whisk players through one mystery at a time, while piecing together Jodie’s memories albeit out-of-sequence. This non-linear narrative can be confusing to first-time players, but it pays off by keeping the overall story fresh and full of tension.

As players witness Jodie’s entire life from the ages of 8 to 23, the most inspiring aspect of the game is Quantic Dream’s beautiful usage of MOCAP to ensure that the actors play out beautifully onscreen. Jodie, Dr. Nathan Dawkens (Dafoe) and Cole Freeman (Hardinson) all are the best rendered, best acted video game characters to close out the PlayStation 3’s console life.

Unfortunately, Beyond has its healthy share of hiccups. The fixed camera, which is controlled by the R3 sixaxis, offers limited viewpoints throughout the game. The out-of-sequence storytelling can sometimes be jarring and confusing to those unfamiliar with the Quantic Dream brand of gameplay. One may find themselves completing the game, only to jump back through the chapter selection just to clear up any questions of what happened when. The underdeveloped tale of Jodie and her not-so-Casper-the-friendly ghost ‘Aiden’ gets progressively sillier the deeper into the game you go. Despite certain spontaneous moments, Beyond takes itself super-seriously even though various plot elements and character motivations change that make no sense at all. The game does manage to reel in many of Heavy Rain’s narrative tricks, but the David Cage-written script (over 2,000 pages long) isn’t award-winning by any means.

Speaking of ‘Aiden,’ his intention within the story is to play out as some sort of puzzle aspect that wasn’t really utilized in Heavy Rain. In addition to being able to control him through your mobile device (“Beyond Touch” on your Google, Android or iOS), his usage throughout the game feels a bit confining and restricted. As he’s armed with the ability to heal Jodie’s injuries, trigger flashbacks from objects, or, most interestingly enough, possess enemies — it’s never made crystal clear why some can be affected this way while others cannot. During one “scene” when Jodie is being seized upon by police, as ‘Aiden,’ gamers merely float around trying to figure out how to aid her into safety. You’re never truly in fear of Jodie’s life as invisible elements make it hard for the enemy to touch her at all.

All in all, Quantic Dream has made a wonderfully engaging, if albeit undercooked video game. The acting and animation make it a beautifully rich experience. Its billed leads, Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, do provide Hollywood caliber performances that would have hindered the game without their presence. Breathing that kind of life into such thrilling characters is the distinction that Beyond: Two Souls has over other games in its weight class. David Cage has woven some pretty compelling issues (life, death, what lies beyond) into a game where the gaming industry normally shies away from such topics.

Qualms about gameplay, cameras and certain choices aside, and Beyond is an interactive thriller that will keep gamers talking about their memorable experiences for quite awhile.

Don’t believe us?! Well, take a look at the trailer for yourself below:

Beyond: Two Souls is available in stores today (Oct. 8) exclusively for the PlayStation 3.