Game: Beyond: Two Souls
Publisher/Developer: Sony/Quantic Dream
Genre: Interactive Adventure
Describe This Game in Three Words: Beautifully, Deeply Unsettling
Plot: Jodie Holmes was born linked to a mysterious and invisible entity named Aiden who can telekinetically manipulate the environment and possess people. He's just barely under the control of Jodie, though, but that doesn't stop the CIA from recruiting her in espionage and to tackle invasions of Aiden's kind from another dimension. The game covers 15 years of her life in an epic drama of loss and madness.
Up, Up: Beyond: Two Souls aims to be closer to a cinematic event than a video game, and it achieves that in spades. It's the first game I've ever seen with the voice cast listed prominently on the front, with Ellen Page as Jodie and Willem Dafoe as her handler/father figure Nathan. There are very, very few games that can honestly be said to capture the same oomph of a truly unique film, but this one certainly does.
It's a wickedly addictive experience, and like most great artistic games it works best by turning the play into a parade of emotions. In something like Portal it's perseverance and strength. In The Last of Us it was dread of a world that can take anything you love at a moment's notice. Here, the thing you'll feel constantly is doubt, and the weight of choice.
Your actions are highly open-ended in a way that Mass Effect can only dream of. You control an insane amount of nuance in the story. As a teenager (The game jumps around Jodie's personal timeline erratically) I gave in to a desire to take revenge when a party turned brutal as other guests locked Jodie in a closet for being a witch. I had no problem unleashing Aiden to terrify them by hurling chairs around, but stopped when I realized I might actually set the house on fire. I didn't want to be a monster, did I?
Then later, Jodie finds herself in a bar on the edge of being gang-raped. I don't know if I could have left that scene without having Aiden possess an attacker and making him gun down his friends and then himself, but I did it anyway. Did it gladly. That's the innovative nature of the game. It constantly opens you to the weight of your actions.
Review continues on next page.
Down, Down: My wife kept asking if I liked Beyond, and I honestly didn't know what to tell her. It's definitely one of the least open-ended games I have ever played. So much of the beautiful scenery that you see will turn you back as the second you walk anywhere near it. That leads to much of the play simply being a constant stream of input-commands that feels more like a constant tutorial than actual gameplay.
Ultimately, that is the flaw in the execution of Beyond. You don't actually play it a whole lot, and never in a single level for any real length of time. Mostly play is a series of very basic environmental puzzles that don't offer any real challenge, though things do get hairy and exciting during what this game considers boss battles.
Left, Right, Left, Right: In a weird way, Beyond is like an ultra-modern version of Dragon's Lair in its control scheme. No really? Your right thumbstick does much of the work as you use it to interact with objects, fight, and dodge objects when you run. It's actually pretty fun, but the flow is broken when it starts asking you to hit X rapidly and other standard input command stuff.
Controlling Aiden takes come getting used to. Moving him always feels a little wobbly, and I'm not sure if that's an artistic statement or a programming failure. His ability to go through walls and windows is instrumental to using him, but the same scenic limitations that hamper Jodie in exploring feel doubly silly to an incorporeal entity.
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B, A: I have not cried while playing a video game since I was an emotionally-stunted teenager realizing that Aeris was never going to be revived. I cried in Beyond though. It's a raw experience that cuts you very deeply. Emotionally, I'm not sure a game has ever topped this.
Side note... we sure do see Jodie in the shower a lot on this game.
Start?: Beyond is not fun in the traditional sense. You're not going to get skilled at it or feel particularly proud of beating it. It's an intellectual experience that is meant to blur the lines between game and film, and in that it is perfect.