On October 8th, David Cage and Quantic Dream released Beyond: Two Souls in America. As someone who’d seen multiple videos on their last critically acclaimed project Heavy Rain, I strapped myself in for the action-packed, nonlinear rollercoaster that I’d been sold at E3. Some of the major selling points for me were the fast-paced hand-to-hand combat, Ellen Page’s voice acting and what appeared to be fantastic presentation. In short, I didn’t buy this game and expect to play it like a typical video game with fidgety movements, exploits, aimless wandering and screwing around for stupid laughs. I expected a guided narrative and a piece of art that was made to be played a certain way, and to an extent I could respect that – given that it was still a thrilling experience done right.
But in a lot of aspects it wasn't. The enigmatic start of the game did well in setting the pace for the rest of the story. You play the main character Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page) as a child, and she’s being experimented with in what appears to be a small laboratory. These scientists realize that she’s connected to an invisible, floating entity named Aiden that can traverse through solid objects and do multiple things. Given that she can see through his perspective, they start off with a simple experiment of having her choose cards in another room that's behind a solid wall, then having her move things inside of it with Aiden. I like the fact that you have the option of listening to them when they say the experiment is over or having Aiden basically go crazy. You get a different reaction either way.
As Aiden can be a mischievous entity, you’re allowed to wander around and pry, which may allow for some shits and giggles, but ultimately always comes with something new that can be achieved in the story. Aiden can be used for eavesdropping, moving things, healing people – he enables the player to do all sorts of crazy things. However, after you pass the first level, that’s when Beyond starts to go downhill. Their first mistake was creating this jumbled narrative; the idea was too experimental and, to be honest, it befuddled the story for me because the timeline was convoluted. They try to drop hints of where you are in Jodie’s life through dialogue and changing her appearance, but for me the story left a lot of loose ends and inexplicable changes of heart. (WARNING: Spoilers in the next paragraph. Skip if you don’t want to see loopholes in the story.)
The times we’re introduced to Ryan, a CIA agent, he’s portrayed as being this tough, insensitive, no-nonsense douchebag who only looks out for himself and the mission. There are distinctly three instances of him having hostile confrontations with Jodie or outright lying to her, yet for some reason she develops a crush on him. We’re never given any instance of his desirable qualities yet somehow we’re expected to go along with his role as a love interest in the story. The same with the taller Native American guy at the Navajo ranch. When Jodie first visits, he's rude, distrustful and acts reserved around her, yet when it’s time to leave you’re given the option to only embrace the shorter, less attractive brother who initially gave you a chance to fit in and make out with the taller one who only opened up to Jodie once. Wtf?
The gameplay of Beyond: Two Souls proves what David Cage has said all along: He really doesn’t like game mechanics. For one, the movements of the characters in the game are extremely rigid, stiff and artificial. There have been times where I’ve had trouble fitting Jodie through doorways, and with nearby objects that can be picked up with the flicks of the R3 stick, moving the camera is hardly ever a viable option. The hand-to-hand combat is tarnished by this weird “direction-fu” bulls***, which basically requires you to flick the stick in the direction that Jodie moves her body. The problem is that there are multiple interpretations to the movements of Jodie’s body; sometimes her foot will go up and you’ll be expected to move the stick to the right, sometimes Jodie will throw her hands down and flicking the stick down won't be the right option. It’s a majorly flawed method of gameplay and, like the rest of the game, it relies on your ability to generate assumptions and “shots in the dark” beyond anything else.
If I had to describe Beyond, I’d do so by comparing its voice actors. At times, the game was simply exquisite. Ellen Page, William Dafoe and Kareem Hardison brought this game to life through passion and realistic expression. There were ‘tearjerker’ moments that this game executed with an unquestionable excellence, but they were blighted but a prevailing feeling of things being artificial and manufactured. The voice actors of the kids at the party (more specifically the blonde-haired guy) and the black high school teacher who suddenly became uneducated and illiterate upon becoming homeless were sloppily done. Things like this perpetuated the artificial feeling of the game. If nothing else, this game’s entrancing soundtrack, beautiful graphics and wonderful eye for the abstract (the artwork of the entities, “black sun,” etc.) saved it from being an abysmal mess. Whoever designed the gameplay and the story has mostly earned my ire, and that’s why (for what it was supposed to be) this game is a hit and miss for me.