Beyond: Two Souls Is Filled With So Much It Even Has Willem Dafoe
What is going on in Beyond: Two Souls? It’s got Hollywood talent, the CIA, supernatural beings, the military and it’s made by the people that gave us Heavy Rain. I don’t know if that’s a recipe for napalm or the most out of context description for what might just be the PS3’s last great exclusive title. We’ve already got The Last of Us but perhaps Quantic Dream’s game can provide a more timeous send-off for the PS3 as the next console generation is ushered in.
Name: Beyond: Two Souls
Developers: Quantic Dream
Publishers: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: 11 October 2013
Let’s start with the stuff that at least makes some sense in this game and we’ll slowly descend into the gumdrop fields of incoherence.
Beyond follows a girl named Ellie, no wait I don’t even know why I instinctively typed that. It could be Ellen Page’s striking resemblance to Ellie in The Last of Us. Let’s try that again. Beyond follows a girl named Jodie Holmes who seems like your average kid. She starts off cute and innocent, grows up a bit and has the obligatory punk/emo phase before growing up a bit rebelling in earnest and then suddenly she’s on the run from the government while her supernatural companion causes widespread destruction. Nothing too out of the ordinary.
Wait a minute, there’s an imaginary friend capable of capable of wreaking havoc? Well, now things are getting a little bit interesting. His name is Aiden (pronounced eye-den and not ay-den for some reason) and he appears to have attached himself to Jodie’s consciousness so there’s no getting rid of him. Aiden first comes into the picture when Jodie is maybe only 7 years old and immediately begins ruining her life.
She has little to no control over him though she can reason with him and the government almost instantly takes an interest because they’re still looking for that special something to give them the edge in WW III. Okay, I might be blurring the lines between reality and the game a bit there but I’m not too far off as you’ll see pretty soon.
Aside: I sincerely hope Russia has a giant bear mech piloted by Putin waiting for American troops in Syria.
Upon being taken to a government facility she is introduced to Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe), a scientist who begins poking at her mind to get a gauge on what she can do, or rather what Aiden can do. The fact that Quantic Dream was able to get actors such as Dafoe and Page for the main roles speaks volumes of the type of cinematic and emotionally charged narrative they’ve crafted.
Aiden is capable of breaking objects, moving them, knocking them over and even creating a force field around Jodie. Once the CIA sees this she’s practically taken on as a little project of theirs. She is trained and kept in captivity. From some trailers it looks as if Jodie is deployed in the Middle East as some sort of weapon before finally breaking free and trying to live out her existence on her own terms. She might even be homeless at some stage.
It pained me to give such a beat by beat breakdown of the game’s overarching plot but it lets me illustrate the scope and breadth of the game. It’s not an isolated and claustrophobic narrative but rather a sprawling escapade across different cities, countries and environments. However, this is all simply a vehicle for the relationship between Jodie and Aiden. It’s comparable to Inception where there was epic action movie with grand locations and a lot going on but at its core was Cobb and him having to come to terms with his demons. The difference here is that by playing as Jodie you’re constantly seeing that character struggle far more clearly.
We’re following Jodie over 15 years of her life from childhood and the intent there is to not only form an emotional bond with her but also see how her relationship with Aiden develops. Thanks to him she cannot live a normal life, he interferes constantly. There is footage of him shutting a door when Jodie wants to go out on a date. Put simply, Aiden is a possessive asshole. On more than one occasion we’ll see Jodie driven to jumping off a bridge or putting a gun to her head.
That’s the sort of troubled space he’s forced her into and as the player you’ll have to struggle through it all with her. Quantic Dream’s David Cage loves making you cry, it’s his second favourite thing next to loading his game’s polygons with emotions. Heavy Rain certainly delivered on that with an experience that literally had me on the edge of my seat and gripped me. However, that game was riddled with plot holes and the story was spread across four very different characters.
Quantic has promised that Beyond is a very different game. It only focuses on one character and so we should expect a story with far more emotional depth and given the period over which the game spans we’ll get to see Jodie evolve and develop. Hopefully the 2000 page script holds together a little bit better too.
That’s rather long for a game that’s only around 10 hours long but you might recall that in Heavy Rain there were up to 8 ways that certain situations could pan out. With the narrative being divided up it was even possible for characters to die. It will be interesting to see if Beyond can bring any similar narrative shocks to the party.
Like Heavy Rain, Beyond won’t feature gameplay in the classical sense. It’s more of an interactive film so you’ll have lots of dialogue options and choices to make. You’ll be able to move around and interact with objects but that’s about it. The intent is to keep you focused on the narrative and challenge your mind rather than your fingers.
Something I just realised is that Willem Dafoe’s Nathan Dawkins serves almost as a counterpoint to Aiden. Dawkins is with Jodie as she grows up in a government facility and they both function as very different father figures. As the game progresses we should see how both those relationships grow and develop.
With a score by Hans Zimmer and an appearance at the Tribeca Film Festival (only the second game after LA Noire to feature there) Beyond: Two Souls is could perhaps be more Oscar worthy than most of this year’s contenders. It might just be the performance of Ellen Page’s career since Juno. To think there was a time where I favoured her as an actress above Natalie Portman and Olivia Wilde. I’m not sure where the relevance is in that.
Suspected Selling Points
- Great cast to deliver engaging performances
- Quantic Dream has track record of emotionally immersive games
- Hans Zimmer (seriously he is that good)
- Unique experience compared to most other games
- As with Heavy Rain, the plot may not hold together
- With so much going on the game may feel incoherent
- This sort of game isn’t for everyone
Beyond: Two Souls is the last big exclusive title before the PS3 hands over the baton to the PS4, can it be the console’s magnum opus or will it just leave us confused and dazed? Chances are it will do a bit of both but the studio has pedigree, the game has real talent behind it and it is certainly looking very good. If anything, I want to play it just to see how all these different elements and stages in Jodie’s life are woven together.