Our gaming expert, Simon Hill goes on a journey through the world of Beyond: Two Souls
As I wipe the tears that are slowly rolling down my left cheek, it all finally starts to make sense. This roller coaster ride of highs and lows and the 10 hour emotionally charged journey I have just taken had lead me to this, one of the finest endings in the history of video games.
Presented through a mish-mash of out-of-sequence stages throughout the troubled life of the vulnerable, but yet incredibly strong lead character, Jodie Holmes, who was voiced, modelled and acted by the very talented Ellen Page (from Juno and Inception). It turns out it was all part of the master plan, Quantic Dream’s Director David Cage was taking me on a journey I would never forget; and oh boy what a journey it was.
Beyond: Two Souls introduces you to a gifted young girl who goes by the name of Jodie. Like many youngsters her age, Jodie has an imaginary friend who she calls Aiden. The difference between, say, your imaginary friend and Jodie’s pal Aiden is that, Aiden is very real, with the ability to posses people, move objects and even heal wounds this is certainly not your average childhood imagination. That in mind Jodie is left by frightened parents in the care of scientist Nathan Dawkins (Played by Willem Dafoe) who becomes a surrogate father to the child whilst testing the limits of Jodie’s condition.
It’s a great concept with a fantastic set-up, the story then charts its way through Jodie’s life, from the age of eight through to her adult life at 23. The frustrating thing is that it does not go through her life events in chronological order but instead skips back and forth through scenes so frequently, that the story struggles to get a foothold on a single narrative to shoehorn it all together, leading to at times just a plethora of unwanted scenarios.
It’s sadly incoherent at times; just ploughing through its 10 hour story with plenty to keep you engrossed until the thoughtless final two hours, where it seems brainstorming ideas were dropped for a game of eye spy.
Far more impressive aspects of Beyond is that it dedicates itself to providing a surprising amount of one-off gameplay experiences. Several useful mechanics – namely the gesture melee combat and using Aiden to solve several challenging environmental puzzles will pop up during the entirety of the game, but a lot of what you seem to do is also limited to a single segment. For example you ride on horseback during one scene through a fairly sizeable sandbox, but you only get the chance to do this once, you can ride in a submarine, on a motorcycle and take action in cover-based stealth, but just the once.
Beyond creates experiences that feel truly cinematic; after all, no action movie is just one long gun battle or one long car chase, it’s all about the peaks and the valleys, the transitions between differing and compelling set pieces. Beyond may be the first game to understand that concept and it delivers in a big way.
Ellen Page can take a lot of the credit. She's well cast as a vulnerable, soul-searching woman with a heavy burden, and gambles on underplaying the part, using long silences and a halting, low delivery to draw you in. Vocally, it's superb work. Willem Dafoe on the other hand fares less well as Nathan, his deliverance can seem flat; although that might be because Quantic's animators have more trouble bringing his mournfully lined face to life. It might also be because Nathan, like all of Beyond's characters, is underwritten.
So Whats The Verdict?
Beyond; Two Souls is one of the most poignant and enthralling stories we have encountered in a video game. Something that is just as capable of stirring up the same depth and emotion as Dicaprio’s demise in Titanic, or your most tear jerking novel by Wilson Rawls. Visuals are the best our current generation of consoles have to offer with a true Hollywood film feel, this makes each set-piece seem that bit more plausible. This does not deter that its ropey script and unorganised sequences have stopped this becoming something magical.
It’s a mess, but a fascinating mess.