tue 17/10/2017

Beyond: Two Souls | reviews, news & interviews

Beyond: Two Souls

Beyond: Two Souls

Ellen Page shines in a stunning interactive story, but where's the game?

'Beyond: Two Souls': an immersive emotional drama, not much of a game

Stunningly good entertainment, interesting art, rubbish game. Beyond: Two Souls does more than any other videogame around to further the cause of interactive narrative fiction – sadly, by jettisoning most of the "interactive" bit.

Beyond: Two Souls predecessor is 2010's Heavy Rain. It's probably one of the most important videogames of the last ten years. Ostensibly an update of the old "point-and-click" adventure genre, you play as four characters whose lives cross in a rainy city – your job is to choose dialogue options, solve puzzles and occasionally grapple with action sequences where you hit buttons in time to prompts on-screen in order to smash your way out of a car, shoot your way through a gangster's mansion or, even, to play basketball in the rain while mourning your son.

What was revolutionary about Heavy Rain was not its gameplay, but its thematic depth (loss was a recurring theme) and its avoidance of stereotypical game approaches (the main character was a grieving architect). In its wake, game stories suddenly grew up – even shooter terrorist fodder needed sob-story backstories and tragedy-tinged narrative arcs.

Beyond: Two Souls - Ellen Page shines in this Heavy Rain successorNow, its successor, Beyond: Two Souls, significantly ups some antes while dialing back on others. This is the story of a young girl, Jodie, tied to a mysterious spirit entity she calls "Aiden". The game runs through out-of-sequence key scenes in her life, cleverly foreshadowing and revealing plot points as it does. We see her on the run from a shadowy SWAT team, using her powers for the CIA and as a child growing up "not like others".

Throughout, Jodie is superbly played by Ellen Page. Her mentor is Willem Defoe. Both are (and this is rare for videogames) not just lending their voice and likeness, but are fully motion-captured. The result is stunning – an utterly real, immersive and emotional drama. Page plays Jodie from young child to young adult particularly well – and the entire game really hangs on her.

Beyond: Two Souls - Ellen Page shines in this Heavy Rain successorPage makes Jodie believable, makes you feel for her, and makes you feel her link to Aiden, whom you can also control, is real. With her, the game is gripping. Without her? It'd be second-string sci-fi. Because there's far too little gameplay almost to call this a game.

In Heavy Rain, emotional key moments had decisions attached – and it was clear those decisions would have ramifications. Here, with a chronologically jumbled narrative, it's unclear how your decision to take revenge or not on teenage bullies, or to steal money from a cashpoint when you're starving or not, plays out. That, combined with the fact the play in the game is even more minimal than its predecessor, almost robs Beyond of its interactive status.

Pause and you'll realise how little play there is to the game, but it often barely matters – despite yourself, you'll be shoving the controller, hammering buttons to get Jodie up the stairs in thick smoke, trying to rescue a mother and baby in a burning building – because you believe you are responsible, because you care. And that, ultimately is what makes Beyond great entertainment, but yes, a pretty poor game.

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Despite yourself, you'll be shoving the controller, hammering buttons to get Jodie up the stairs in thick smoke... because you believe you are responsible

rating

Editor Rating: 
4
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Comments

Your mileage may vary, but for me, the game is transcendent. It transcends both video games and movies to become something greater than either medium would ever be by themselves. I'm an avid gamer (I have 400+ Steam games, 400+ iOS games, and 100+ console games). Yet--to speak for myself--*I* found this game far more moving, thought-provoking, meaningful, and entertaining than many other games (including Super Mario Galaxy 1-2, Grand Theft Auto 4-5, The Last of Us, and others). I can only compare it to Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, or the Metal Gear Solid series: deep rich stories that have themes and messages that convey something of lasting meaning; something beyond the mindless (but fun) shooting and platforming of other titles. I will remember this game for years to come. There are few works of fiction of any medium for which I can say the same. If you like a rich deep story line and don't care about a lack of "agency" (it's always illusory in video games, anyway--there are always incredibly restrictive rules on game play), then this is *the* game of the seventh generation. The comparably minor errors in execution and direction can be ignored, when viewed in light of the whole. Indeed, the question of whether this qualifies as a game is, like Dear Ester, a largely irrelevant and pedantic: It entertains. It provokes thought. It is emotionally moving. And it illustrates that games--like cinema or literature--can be taken seriously as a medium to both entertain and enlighten. If judged solely as a film, or only as a game, I can understand the bad scores, but when you combine them, I think the effect is unique and something we need to see more of. It seems to me that most reviewers of this game have profoundly and tragically missed the point.

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