Jodie Holmes' story is that of a woman in flux. We are presented the story of a woman's constantly changing identity and the extraordinary circumstance she's thrust into because of her unique "gift". She has been, since birth, linked to a supernatural entity named Aiden. Her life has been lived under the watchful eyes of those who would make use of her gifts for their own selfish and often destructive means. This journey that writer/director David Cage takes us on is harrowing, appalling at times but always enthralling. I couldn't stop. There are few experiences in the entire medium that I can compare it to.
The first thing that leaps to mind is Quantic Dream's prior console-exclusive effort, Heavy Rain . It was a flawed and brilliant game that I defend adamantly. It did something that, at the time, no AAA titles were willing to do. Stray from the trail. It gave us game play that, yes, was simple but fit with the overall filmic feel that Cage and team were going for. Beyond: Two Souls is the natural evolution of this but it's also David Cage, for all his aspirations to make video games that are not only compelling experiences but cinematic ones too. H e took a wrecking ball to the traditional narrative structure of video games and what we're presented with is a confusing disarray of an entire human life.
Games with branching narratives can be tough to properly review as the choices we make aren't necessarily easy to forecast until the end right? I saw a few of the variants of the endings that you can get here. We don't really get happy resolutions as life rarely ends that way. Nearly all of them, though, pack a significant whallop that not only dissolves the confusion of the earlier vignettes (of which there are 20) but also leaves us with a sense that this is but a window into the larger narrative of not only Jodie but everyone that she has come into contact with and the world at large.
What works so well about this game and it's choices, whether or not you feel they really make a difference or not, is that Jodie becomes someone you care about. You give a damn about this woman and her fucked up life. You empathize. Video games often aren't so great at getting that to happen whereas I was hooked in almost immediately. Cage's scripting is better here but really it is Ellen Page's performance that makes this a must-see experience. The motion-capture is brilliant, no doubt, but she gives a performance that is flat-out phenomenal. Her debut in the medium is truly a sight to be seen.
Willem Dafoe as the surrogate Father/government scientist who serves as her anchor is assured and natural. Again the mo-cap shines here but Dafoe's performance is fantastic. It is interesting to want to look at how great the performances were in a game as they serve the plot so well. This is, for better or for worse, a long interactive movie. LA Noire dazzled us with the fantastic portrayal of the human face where here the entire package is presented flawlessly. Walking looks natural. Animations feel fluid and good. This translates to the hand-to-hand combat sequences working quite well despite the Quick-Time Event mechanic that is shoehorned into that. There is an entire argument that could be had as to whether we're hitting the uncanny valley here with just how GOOD graphically this game is but really it's just all window dressing for a well-acted, spoken and crafted paranormal tale.
If anything really serves as a knock against the game it's the combat. Sometimes it's rather unclear as to which direction you need to flick the analog stick to block or dodge attacks. The more I've thought on it though I almost don't find it as that much of a detriment as when you look at Jodie's stature compared to most all of the foes she comes up against even the failure to hit the wrong direction almost feels natural in a way. She will show the scars of the player's failings to hit the right buttons as well though eventually you're given enough opportunities to make it through each scenario.
There is a lot that can be said about the overall arc of the story here but, frankly, I don't want to spoil this fantastic effort from Quantic Dream for those who haven't gotten to it yet. It is a PS3 exclusive, no doubt, but it is well worth looking into. It isn't perfect, by any means, but it does something that games don't often do. It takes a chance. It lets us live these big blockbuster moments in a human being's life but also the smallest ones. One scene in particular during a childhood vignette has you play through a tea party that young Jodie is having. Some would view this scene as unnecessary and boring. I think it's an indicator of what we don't get enough of in the medium. The smallest moments can sometimes be the best to experience. It can't all be summer blockbuster theatrics.
Beyond won't be for everyone, though. It was, however, an engaging and worthwhile ten hours of my life spent. The divergent endings are worth playing through again to see and certain vignettes are so good that I found myself going back through to play them again. It is an interesting ride that never bores and always finds ways to surprise.