Quantic Dream’s games have always put me in a bind: they’ve always made me reconsider what the term ‘video game’ actually means. Typical definitions of the term would imply a level of interactivity, but the degree of this interactivity has always been debatable, to put it lightly. However, I’d rather not derail this review into a discussion about ludology (the study of game mechanics) and narrative in video games as a whole.
The studio’s games have always been known, and lauded, for one major reason—their stories (except for the last third of Fahrenheit, or Indigo Prophecy, depending on where you live. Screw that game). Its latest, Beyond: Two Souls, has seen no small amount of marketing. Of course, it didn’t help that two of the biggest and celebrated actors have played parts in the game—Ellen Page as the protagonist Jodie Holmes, and Willem Dafoe, Jodie’s psychiatrist-cum-father-figure Nathan Dawkins. These actors are undoubtedly one of the main reasons the game has received so much publicity.
Dafoe does an excellent job at being Jodie's surrogate father
Moving on to the game itself, players take on the roles of Jodie and her supernatural friend Aiden. The story is told in a highly non-linear fashion, jumping from and to various points in Jodie’s life. One moment you’re playing a day from her childhood, and the next moment, you’re part of a CIA operation to take down a warlord in an African country. It was a bit disorienting at first, when you end up doing things without knowing why, but once you get the hang of what’s going on, it’s quite an enjoyable plot. However, the ending might rub some people the wrong way. However, for the sake of not spoiling the story, we won’t go into it.
Character development is quite visible. Jodie is definitely a different person in the three eras of her life covered in the game. As a child, Jodie comes off as innocent. Most of the adults around child Jodie never take what she says seriously, and this ends up becoming one of the major plot points. Teenager Jodie, despite the problems she faces, especially in one particularly memorable social scenario where she had to go to another teenager’s birthday party, is about as awkward as you would expect any teenager to be. Adult Jodie, being a CIA agent, is about as badass as you would expect a CIA-trained girl with a guardian angel ghost would be.
The story is told in a highly non-linear fashion
Speaking of the guardian angel ghost, Jodie’s ghost friend Aiden is a particularly interesting character. Aiden manages to have a ton of characterisation without a word of spoken dialogue. His relationship with Jodie, while only hinted at in the beginning, begins to get fleshed out the further you get into the game, and all of the dialogue in the interaction between the two are purely from Jodie’s side.
When it comes to gameplay, Beyond: Two Souls falls into the same trap as its predecessors Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit. As mentioned earlier, a video game is defined by its interaction, and Beyond has very little of it. The most you do is walk along a linear route through a level and take part in some quick time event. It is understandable, however, that some of the actions that take place in the game are too varied and high-concept to actually be mapped to any one of the limited buttons on a PlayStation 3 controller.
The likenesses of the characters has been captured perfectly
Most of the actual gameplay comes in when you take control of Aiden. As a poltergeist-esque being, Aiden has a few abilities, such as limited telekinesis using which you can smack objects, and sometimes people, around, the ability to possess certain characters, the ability to act as a spirit medium between a live person and a dead one, the ability to strangle undesirables, and most interestingly, the ability to channel the remaining life force of a dead person into Jodie’s mind, giving her a glimpse at that person’s final moments.
Levels themselves, while terribly linear, are built well. Players will never find themselves lost. Visually, the game is quite impressive as well. At a glance, one would be hard-pressed to believe it’s not an actual movie. The likenesses of stars Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe have been captured quite well and the game will have quite a big hand in putting criticisms against Page’s acting capabilities to rest. Quantic Dream has also been quite ingenious with the kind of levels they put you through. Let me just put it this way: never has a game made me beg for money and even consider prostitution just so that I could have something to eat that night.
Page's voice acting is spot on, often capturing the perfect tone for desperation
Sound design is great as well. The voice acting has been delivered with the level of professionalism one would expect from big-name Hollywood actors, and the only criticism one can level against the acting is from the at-times childish writing. The music is great too, often catching the right mood for most of the levels. Atmosphere falls flat sometimes, however. An example that comes to mind is a 'horror' level early on in the game which, at moments, straight out made me laugh with its horribly-paced jump scares.
Beyond: Two Souls has a lot of things going for it: the star cast, solid story (albeit with somewhat childish writing at moments) and gripping presentation. It also manages to do a lot for representing women in video games, with one of those rare titles where the protagonist is a non-sexualised woman, and you play her all the way from her childhood to her days of badassery. However, Jodie’s dependency on Aiden at certain moments does prove problematic at times, both in terms of narration as well as gameplay. It is, however, a solid game that’s well worth your time. Doubly so if you played and enjoyed any of Quantic Dream’s other games. Its price, however, might be a big barrier for some. Rs 3,499 seems a bit too much to ask for what most people will only play through once, despite a minor amount of replayability afforded by the game's multiple endings.
Platform: PlayStation 3
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