Beyond Two Souls Review: Experimental Art
Over the past decade David Cage has been perfecting the interactive cinematic experience. Heavy Rain introduced a new type of video game genre to the masses, one that was experienced, more so than it was traditionally “played”. Now developer Quantic Dream has moved forward, improving the technology and constructing a new sci-fi story for their latest title ‘Beyond Two Souls’.
The technology using the game is incredible to say the least, the game borrows the voice talents, acting ability, and likenesses of Ellen page and Willem Defoe. Straightaway anyone that has ever played Heavy Rain should understand that this genre of videogames isn’t for everyone, and in our shared videogame history, the structure of the gameplay is still relatively new. That being said I don’t think there’s anyone that has put as much time, effort, or funding behind this genre as David Cage and his team.
Beyond Two Souls is a PS3 exclusive, and one that marks the perfect end of a console generation. In one month we will begin the next-gen console lifespan with the PS4. The new console will bring with it new games, new possibilities and new genres, and it seems only fitting that the PS3 console lifespan ends with great titles like ‘The Last of Us’ and ‘Beyond Two Souls’
In the game players will meet Jodie Holmes, who was played by the remarkably talented Ellen page in this, her first videogame debut. Jodie is a girl with very special gifts, one who you will meet and watch grow, from her young life to her early teen years. Her doctor, Nathan Dawkins played by Dafoe, studies Jodie’s unique abilities. Much of the story should be experienced firsthand so I don’t want to give too much away, but as you can tell in the preview trailers that were released earlier this year, Jodie has a unique ability to be connected to a unknown spiritual body which is called Aiden.
This is the centerpiece of the gameplay design, players will either control Jodie or the spiritual body Aiden. The story is told through Jodie, so many of the gameplay moments or interactive experiences will be told through her character. Much like Heavy Rain it’s the dialogue, the attitude or the decisions that you make, that form the crux of the gameplay scenarios. While Jodie tends to control conversations with her other living, breathing cohorts; it’s when players assume the spiritual body that they are able to hack into computers, see the scene from a different point of view, or even hurt or help living members. Assuming the role of a spiritual body may not be an entirely unique aspect in videogames, but David Cage did provide a very fluent experience between switching from the two characters.
Aidan is not invisible all the time, it can be seen and felt and heard by the living world and this causes many problems for Jodie. With her unique powers Jodie quickly finds herself as the center of attention from many interested parties. These parties consist of fellow scientists, medical doctors, psychologists, military and covert operations, many of whom don’t have Jodie’s best interests at heart.
The game’s larger story arc becomes a sci-fi thriller, one that could easily be adapted into a sci-fi blockbuster, but it’s the personal moments that Jodie has in the game and her overall struggle that was really the most interesting part of the game for myself. Without question, I think some of the best scenes, and the the most memorable moments, were between Jody and her doctor. Jodie is awkward and isolated, she’s ashamed when she is younger because she’s different. I think a lot of people can understand being different, and how it could be one of the worst feeling you can have when you’re a child. This is where the game strives, when you take real-life situations and act them out through Jodie, who is unique, and you watch that real-life experience through this new character.
Where the game stumbles is when the storyline becomes less like real life. Dealing with sci-fi can be extremely difficult and keeping the world that you have created realistic and relatable, while also offering something radically different and exciting, isn’t easily done. There were a few points where things started to get ‘silly’, but those movements were a few and far between and the underlining story of Jodie made it easy to forget about those few isolated incidences.
The game offers 23 different endings. Some of these endings of course are far more drastic than others, while some offer subtle changes in the storyline. Many games offer multiple endings now, but few games really put the energy that is required to offer quality storyline endings, like Quantic Dreams does in their games.
The other double-edged sword that I want to mention comes with the incredible technology that was used to make this game. The cut-scenes, the gameplay and the acting, all of it was beautifully captured and this is one of the best looking PS3 games that I think will ever come to this generation. With that comes the problem of actual gameplay, and I’ll explain. While controlling Jodie it was hard at first to distinguish her from Ellen page, because the motion capture was so well done, but it was when normal game moments happened (like running into the same wall or not being able to move past an obstruction on the floor) that the shell was broken and it only made the small glitches more noticeable. This isn’t exactly an issue in the game, it’s in every video game I’ve ever played, I just wanted to point it out because it was interesting to see how as the technology advances, it is the simpler problems with games that become the most obvious.
Right now the interactive video game as a cinematic storyteller, is in its evolutionary stage, and those that are interested in the genre won’t be able to find a better subject than Beyond Two Souls or Heavy Rain (depending on sci-fi or crime thriller preferences). I wouldn’t say this game is ready for the majority of gamers and I don’t think it was designed to be. I look at David Cage’s work as experimental art, and although his development team is by far the most advanced in the field, I do think there is room to grow and he will be the first to perfect it.
The story has a sci-fi expression, and it should appeal to those gamers that are interested in that genre, and the interactive experience that we had in Heavy Rain is much more advanced in Beyond Two Souls. Overall I think the game was terrifically well done, even with the small quirks sometimes goofy moments, it is still the best interactive cinematic-experience that you can get. Although that genre might be new, that doesn’t exclude the fact that Quantic Dream created something that sits at the top of that chart.