Jake Pelenis // Arts Columnist
Beyond: Two Souls is a deeply flawed epic that occasionally brushes up against brilliance. I have a veritable laundry list of complaints about the game but I still walked away with a positive impression. It suffers greatly from an extreme lack of narrative focus and drops the ball when it comes to gameplay of any sort; yet it manages to stand out from the pack simply by being so drastically different from the run-of-the-mill video game experience.
Writer-director David Cage has proven himself previously with the astoundingly brilliant, “Heavy Rain.” With “Beyond,” he refined what has made his characters so engaging but spread them paper-thin across a jumbled mess of new ideas. Jody, played by the captivating Ellen Page, is a young girl tethered to an invisible supernatural being named Aiden. Jody can channel into Aiden for brief periods and use him to remotely view things from afar, knock things around, or even possess and murder humans.
Nathan Dawkins (Willem Defoe), the head of the Department of Paranormal Activity, takes great interest in Jody at a young age and studies her closely over the next 20 years or so. This is what the player knows at the beginning of the game, and this is all they will know until the last 30-40 minutes. There is no problem or central idea to the game that would keep gamers involved, and when one finally pops up, the game swiftly concludes. This issue is made even worse by the fact that the narrative is presented in a non-linear format.
The game has no sense of pacing as it lurches around the timeline to different moments in Jody’s life, eliminating any hope of becoming invested in the character. There is a long drawn out sequence in the middle of the game that takes place in the deserts of Western America that was one of the most dreadful exercises of boredom I’ve experience in a video game. Something that keeps the game from sinking to abysmal levels though, is the stellar performances given by the actors. There are quiet moments dotted throughout the game that are so lovingly crafted and acted, it’s impossible not to give in; I never thought I would put so much care into cooking Asian beef for a dinner date with a CIA agent.
If you have played “Heavy Rain,” the mechanics are essentially the same here. You press buttons when prompted to say or do certain things and see how they turn out. The major differences arise when controlling Aiden, which I found to be a complete chore. He has three basic uses that are randomly limited without any reasoning. You can possess some guards but not others, with no explanation as to why. Cage attempts to inject some freedom into his typically story focused games with Aiden, but I wish he had stuck to what he was good at.
My experience with “Beyond” can be summed up thusly: while perusing the aisles of the in-game supermarket, you will come across a bag of “potatos chips.” It’s nice that they included such detail, but they didn’t bother to spell it correctly.