“BEYOND: Two Souls” is many things: interactive supernatural drama; engrossing narrative; visual work of art. It’s officially dubbed a “unique, interactive, psychological thriller,” but for all of it, it’s difficult to call a game.
“BEYOND: Two Souls” chronicles the early life of Jodie, a girl with a life-long attachment to a poltergeist-like being known as “Aiden,” with the player assuming control of one or the other as the situation requires. The plot moves slow at times and even manages to feel a bit withholding as scenes jump non-linearly from childhood experiments at the Department of Paranormal Activity to combat training in the CIA. The device is used to reveal certain plot points in the order of most dramatic impact, however predictable they may seem.
Quantic Dream’s first release following the critically acclaimed “Heavy Rain,” “BEYOND: Two Souls” is a similar narrative-driven adventure. Much like Heavy Rain, “BEYOND: Two Souls” is gorgeously rendered, visually striking at every turn, and features much of the same reaction-based controls. Unlike Heavy Rain, I had difficulty adapting to these controls over time, finding the tutorial-type gameplay in the beginning equally as awkward at game’s end. Moving as Jodie can be erratic, especially during dark scenes where it’s difficult to see which direction Jodi needs to move. Due to this, it’s completely satisfying to leap into Aiden for faster and less restricted movement, particularly to freak other characters out, possess or throttle enemies, or draw memories from corpses and artifacts. Mostly, I find that I’m more passenger than pilot.
With about 8-10 hours to complete, the title also features two-player mode, allowing one player to act as Jodie and the other to control Aiden. Two-player mode is no less cumbersome than single-player, and can be even more maddening as players must wait their turn in the narrative to play rather than using a split-screen, independent experience.
Another control feature worth mentioning is the addition of using a smartphone as a controller by downloading the free “BEYOND: Two Souls” app. Using my antiquated iPhone 4, I found the touch-screen controls to be surprisingly responsive, and oddly less frustrating than the traditional console controllers.
A review of this game would be woefully incomplete without mentioning the masterful acting of Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe, and Kadeem Hardison, who steal the show in their roles. Ellen Page’s “Jodie,” while incessantly weepy, is nothing short of spectacular with her trademark duality of nuanced sadness and “say-what-I-feel” outbursts. No matter the player’s choice of dialogue, Page is always genuine, endearing and never out of place. Quantic Dream’s mastery of motion-capture is well evidenced and a mighty tool in creating believable characters and emotional investment.
The new era of cinematic gaming can be engrossing, and “BEYOND: Two Souls” is no different, but it lacks the kind of fear of consequences in Heavy Rain and less suspense than Telltale Games’ award-winning “The Walking Dead.” I never felt compelled to replay a scene with different choices.
Despite it’s limitations, “BEYOND: Two Souls” more than makes up for gameplay by blurring the line between gaming and cinema, creating a unique and enthralling entertainment experience all it’s own.
BITTER GRADE: 7.5 / 10