'Beyond: Two Souls' - review

Tuesday, 08 October 2013 11:00 AM Written by 

BeyondCoverThe PlayStation 3’s 2010 exclusive “Heavy Rain” was a significant progression for video games with its cinematic narrative. Developer Quanitic Dream used unconventional controls so traditional gameplay could take a backseat while the focus was on the game’s story. But the game’s subpar acting performances became the distraction that the developers tried to avoid.

Quantic Dream looks to rectify that mistake in “Beyond: Two Souls,” another story driven game, that stars Academy Award Nominees Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. Having two experienced actors at the helm is the difference maker that allows the game to succeed where its predecessor failed.

Page plays the role of Jodie Holmes, a young girl who has the gift – or curse – of being connected to a spirit from another world called an entity. This entity named Aiden has the ability to manipulate objects, but is invisible to people in Jodie’s world. “Beyond: Two Souls” follows 15 years of Jodie’s life as she struggles through her childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

The Department of Paranormal Activities (DPA) develops an interest in Jodie’s unique circumstances. Researcher Dr. Nathan Dawkins (Dafoe) finds himself in dual roles as a researcher and Jodi’s father figure. The line between these roles blurs as the DPA discovers a way to gain access to Aiden’s world.

Page and Defoe lent their faces as the characters and performed the motion capture work for their scenes. This technology allows “Beyond” to appear more like a movie starring the duo, rather than a video game.

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The story is told in a non-linear fashion throughout the course of Jodie’s life. Chapters jump sporadically between her adult, teen, and childhood ages, filling in key information as the story progresses. This style was confusing at first, but a timeline displayed between chapters helps the player figure out when the next events took place.

Like “Heavy Rain,” “Beyond” is a video game that is built like a choose-your-own-adventure book. A conversation may take place on the screen, and a quick and noninvasive prompt will allow the player to choose Jodi’s response. The player’s decisions have an impact on the story, and even affect the ending.

This controls that change depending on the context of the scene are intentional, so the narrative isn’t lost behind confusing button mapping. The triangle button is the only constant, which is used to switch between Jodie and Aiden. With simple controls, “Beyond” can be enjoyed by non-traditional gamers.

The developers figured out a way to get rid of some button prompts altogether. During high action, the scene will enter slow motion. Whichever direction Jodie is moving, the analog stick input has to match the direction of her movement for a successful action. For example, if debris is flying towards her, causing her to begin a ducking animation, the analog stick has to be pulled down. If she’s punching an enemy from right to left, the stick needs to be flicked left.  

Quantic Dream took its simple control scheme a step further with the “Beyond” app for mobile devices. With this app, the game can be completely controlled through an Apple or Android touch screen when connected to a PS3 via wi-fi.  This integration goes further to remove barriers so non-gamers can experience and enjoy “Beyond’s” thrilling story.

In an unexpected addition to the game, “Beyond” can be played with two players. One person takes the primary role as Jodie, while someone else can control Aiden. The characters can be controlled by two controllers, two mobile devices, or a combination of the two. Allowing an inexperienced player to control Aiden on the mobile app is a great way to expose someone to this game who otherwise may miss it.

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My wife, who has never played a video game from the current generation, played the entire game as Aiden. Progressing and solving the game’s puzzles as a team was an enjoyable experience for both of us. This wouldn’t have been possible without the simplicity of the “Beyond” app.

Beneath this game’s unorthodox controls, innovative mobile app, and stunning graphics, the story and performances capture raw emotion in a world of science fiction. Page shows a broad range from a timid teenager who is bullied because she’s different, to a strong young adult trying to find love with her burden. Her brilliance is equaled by Dafoe, who artfully portrays the complex Dr. Dawkins. The two performances overshadow the occasionally murky logic behind the science fiction.

The story is more about human elements than ghostly entities. Page and Dafoe bring it to life, making “Beyond” a unique experience. Being accessible to gamers and non-gamers alike, it’s a must play for any PS3 owner.

 

9.25 out of 10

 

Pros:

 

Emotional story aided by brilliant performances

Multiple outcomes provide replay value

Mobile app opens game to non-gamers

 

Cons:

 

Inconsistent logic in the science fiction

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