Quantic Dream’s latest interactive experience Beyond: Two Souls stars Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page
Beyond: Two Souls aims to make its players feel emotion (as Quantic Dream CEO David Cage himself puts it). This latest effort exists very much in the same space as Quantic’s previous titles such as Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy, and while it shares a lot of similarities with those games (inviting comparison), it is also the most accessible adventure of the lot. Despite featuring the performances of Hollywood talent such as Ellen Page (Hard Candy, Juno, Inception) and Willem Dafoe (Platoon, Shadow of the Vampire, Spider-Man), Beyond: Two Souls is also the least ambitious of the three in terms of game design, because Cage has chosen a different path this time around: one, if everything goes right, that will make you cry like a little baby. This completely cinematic approach does things that few games manage to do (thanks in part to production values and superb shifts put in by Page and Dafoe), while it does work against it at times.
One of the most interesting aspects about Beyond: Two Souls is the choice of protagonists: Jodie Holmes could not be more different from literally every other video game protagonist you’ve ever played as — initially, at least. She’s almost always lost, always looking for a way out, or trying to find purpose. She’s bitter, hates being used and loathes being lied to. The second protagonist (if one can call him that) is Aiden, Jodie’s spirit companion, an entity who can manipulate objects, possess people, or in a worst-case-scenario, strangle them to death. Jodie and Aiden are bound together, so Aiden can’t wander too far off from where Jodie is, which works out great because he’s pretty protective of her. Cage has always been about the strong female protagonist, and seeing Jodie transition from her seemingly humble beginnings to a Kung-Fu master and eventually, a world-saving “chosen one” type character (as cliché as it sounds), is quite refreshing. It also helps that Ellen Page’s performance is nothing short of brilliant — she’s brought all her signature quirks (her half-responsive “No.”, for instance, will make you smile) and the performance capture certainly has helped mirror a lot of nuances.
Dafoe is great as well. His portrayal of Nathan Dawkins, who like Jodie, undergoes a huge transformation during the story — from curious researcher to emotional wreck and finally into mad scientist. Their chemistry on screen is fantastic. It’s so good that when they’re not in a scene together, it almost feels like a different game — the standard is set so high that it’s quite apparent that the other actors are not able to cope. This disparity is only a symptom of the larger issues of Beyond: Two Souls.
“Chronological disorder” is a phrase David Cage has used to describe the plot structure of Beyond: Two Souls, and while TV shows and films have been able to successfully utilise it to their advantage (Lost, Memento), in this particular case, it feels like a justification for the game’s disconnected story. It’s not just the chapter jumps, either — it seems like there are too many stories to tell. I, for one, did not enjoy the game’s stealth/action gameplay sections when Jodie’s doing wet-work for the CIA, while I found something strangely haunting about the “Little Jodie” chapters. Then there’s the absurd “Navajo” chapter that feels ridiculously disconnected from the main plot — almost as if it were DLC. Whereas Heavy Rain was an ambitious storytelling device, with multiple narrative paths, Beyond: Two Souls feels like a step back. Yes, its linearity makes it more cinematic, and perhaps a better tool to evoke emotion (which Heavy Rain did just fine, in my opinion), but the central idea of the story and its elements feel inspired (perhaps a little too much) by Quantic Dream’s previous effort, Fahrenheit/Indigo Prophecy. In fact, Beyond: Two Souls is at its best while doing two entirely different things: one, when Dafoe and Page are bringing their a-game on the performance capture set, and two, when there’s something so ridiculously sci-fi (that it can only be in a game) happening on screen.
But if you were to look at each chapter like an episode of a TV show with no overarching plot, Beyond: Two Souls can be a pretty interesting proposition. It’s still the only game of its type, and its brand of gameplay can be a refreshing change of pace from the twitchiness of other games. The fact that you can play it entirely from an iOS or Android smartphone using the Beyond Touch app makes it very accessible, while the co-operative play opens up possibilities for handholding. It’s a great transition tool for non-gamers. Beyond: Two Souls is available exclusively for the Sony Playstation 3.