Much like you can spot a movie directed by Michael Bay or the Coen Brothers, David Cage is making his mark on the games he directs. Working with developer Quantic Dream, Cage again directs an experience that moves away from your typical game style and instead implements a sort of interactive narrative, putting players in the role of the protagonist and allowing them to define certain choices that can bend the experience at will. With Beyond: Two Souls, stars Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe sit atop a stable of actors that are familiar with the big screen and, due to that experience, are able to lend their voices to make their acting perhaps the most impressive part of the game. That’s not to say the environments and character rendering aren’t things to raise your eyebrows to, but without the voice talent of the cast, Beyond: Two Souls wouldn’t even be worth experiencing.
Those looking for the stereotypical gamification will be disappointed, as there are no points, no life-and-death risks, and no player-driven tension. Instead, players are taken on a narrative adventure that happens to include choices that lend the player a feeling that they’re impacting the story line when, in fact, the variations are not as important as you’re led to believe.
Playing as Jodie Holmes, you’re a unique girl with an interesting secret: a spiritual entity has tied itself to you. It’s not a ghost or an angel, it’s simply “a thing”. And this thing’s name is Aiden. To add an element of gameplay, cooperative mode is included where one player controls Jodie, the other Aiden. Unfortunately, when there is no real “cooperative play,” due to being forced to control one or the other, never both at the same time. This leads to spans of boredom and inevitably will result in it being a single-player game, unless you have a very patient duo. Another attempt at adding elements of gameplay is the use of the Playstation 3’s six-axis controller, used to complete certain maneuvers during the story. While most actions are tied to the shoulder and face buttons with some use of the right and left thumbstick, causing players to rapidly move the controller up and down or to twist it seems forced. You certainly must applaud their attempt to remove the tedious button pushing that exists throughout, but this is not the answer.
The storyline itself is odd, showcased with a back-and-forth element that tells a bit of Jodie’s current story before flashing back to her childhood. The times when you’re witnessing Jodie as a child — anywhere from age 6 or 7 to age 17 — it feels empty. At least when you’re a woman, training at the CIA or being chased by them, there are action scenes that keep the suspense at a fever pitch. The flashbacks attempt to introduce drama to help round out the narrative altogether, but more often than not end up feeling like filler content, used to separate the best parts of the game.
Though it’s not your typical game, as you begin to play through you will find yourself connecting to certain characters, including Aiden. While you can’t hear his voice or understand his thoughts, the projection of Jodie’s answers and commands to him do a magnificent job of telling the story of his motivations, some of which directly conflict with Jodie’s own wants and needs. It’s when you finally begin to understand the desires and regrets of each character that an unexpected plot twist is introduced and a heightened supernatural element is introduced. It’s important to understand that because it’s in that moment when you’ll begin remove yourself from the immersion once again.
With a beautiful scenery, well-developed characters, and interesting story-design, Beyond: Two Souls is the sort of title that is simply described as “different”. Despite being given a range of choices across the entire game, most choices are meaningless until the end, when it becomes clear that you’re setting yourself up for alternate endings. The relationships that the characters build are sincere, but the implementation of the paranormal that goes beyond just Jodie and Aiden is distracting and minimizes the connection they have, despite narrative explanations and game endings. If you’re a typical gamer who looks to be challenged by opponents, this is not the title for you; if you’re looking for a new experience and a step away from the typical grind of today’s titles, you’ll not want to miss this.
Overall Score: 6.5 out of 10