Video Games

Review: Beyond: Two Souls

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This month, Adam Bown looks at the spiritual successor to Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain. Is it worthy of being called an autumn blockbuster?

Sometimes expectations can make or break an opinion on a piece of work. For instance, the original ending to Mass Effect 3 caused controversy when it brought to a close a series as anticlimatically as possible, almost like waiting for the encore at an Iron Maiden gig, yet instead of coming out with Aces High  they do a song and dance routine to Sexy and I Know It.

In this particular case, anticipation for Beyond: Two Souls was mute at best, this being writer/director David Cage’s follow up to 2010 is Heavy Rain: a neo-noir/sci-fi/thriller that, despite having some shining moments, almost hung itself by its own rampaging plot threads. However, what kept Quantic Dream’s latest offering interesting was the participation of A-list actors Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, as their performances coupled with David Cage’s visual direction had the potential to be one of the better collaborations seen in recent times.

Beyond: Two Souls follows the story of Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page), who has been tied to an entity know as Aiden since birth, across 15 years of her life split into 24 chapters, which range from Jodie being a young girl at a paranormal research facility, to being hunted down by the CIA.

First and foremost, it is truly a viseral experience that takes place across a wide-array of locales and allows director David Cage to to create technically impressive scenes – a personal favourite being a time-lapse in the chapter Homeless which transitions from day to night whilst Ellen Page sings artist Beck’s Lost Cause.

Cage’s script is on the whole much more tightly focused here than in his previous outing. It was also refreshing to see Cage had dropped the rampant objectification of female characters with Jodie being strong and able to hold her own in a fight whilst Madison Paige was chiefly in Heavy Rain to be exploited.

Furthermore, the strong performances from the cast, Ellen Page in particular is excellent in the central role, and an exquisite score by Hans Zimmer, Lorne Balfe and Normand Corbeil help to sell the dramatic elements of the story allowing players to get invested in the events transpiring.

However, one thing that has not been mentioned is the actual gameplay; and this is where we begin to find the first major problems. It is minimilistic at best – Jodie’s actions usually revolve around Quick Time Events or the much taked about bullet-time mechanic, which involves moving the right analogue stick in the same way as Jodie’s motion, which led to several frustrating failures as some of the motions are ambiguous to say the least.

It is also possible to explore the semi-linear environments with either Jodie or the entity Aiden, whose mechanics are controlled using the triggers and analogue sticks. However, unlike Jodie, Aiden has more of a free-roam aspect and can interact with certain objects and NPCs to solve puzzles or create sheer chaos. This is exemplified in the chapter Hunted whereby a series of opportunities to posess NPCs leads to one of the best action set-pieces of the game.

Although this does bring us on to perhaps Beyond: Two Souls biggest flaw, it is far more of a film than it is a game, an experience rather than a challenge, and that is what will make it suffer in the gaming community – it may well be too passive an experience for the hardcore gamers of today.

Nevertheless, it is bolstered by a great central performance from Ellen Page, solid direction by David Cage, a phenomenal score and has a story with an emotional punch that shows. Despite all of its flaws, it has soul!

 

 

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