- Developer - Quantic Dream
- Publisher - Sony Computer Entertainment
- Platform - PlayStation 3
- Price - £39.99
- Release date - 11 October
Beyond: Two Souls
David Cage gets a lot of stick. People accuse him of stealing from cinema; of not being able to write; of talking about changing the game industry and then producing, more often than not, trash. To his critics, Cage is neither a good game-maker nor a good film-maker. In order to stop players from interfering with his narratives, he designs linear, barely interactive half-games. At the same time, the stories he is eager to protect hardly seem worth saving. They're rarely - if ever - better than network television.
To others, myself included, Cage is a prospect. He's willing to try strange ideas. And in the cookie-cutter world of mainstream games, any amount of personality that manages to bleed through ought to be celebrated. I don't want to give him a free pass - I understand why his work is frustrating - but at least David Cage is a unique voice.
Beyond: Two Souls, the latest game from his studio Quantic Dream, is unlike anything I've played in my life.
You play as Jodie Holmes, a young woman who, since birth, has been followed by the spirit of a dead person, which she refers to as Aiden. Beyond follows Jodie over 15 years of her life, from the time when she's a young girl, coming to terms with living with Aiden, to her training and work for the government, and her personal life as young adult.
You also play as Aiden itself, which can be switched to at virtually any time by tapping Triangle. As well as scouting ahead for danger, Aiden can also lift and move objects, disrupt electronic equipment and posses and kill people.
A simple gameplay set-up sees you, as Jodie, infiltrating a secret base. You need to get past the guards without being seen, so you switch to Aiden, float into their control room and start throwing chairs around until they get too scared and run away. On another occasion, you might possess one of them and use his gun to kill the others before shooting "yourself" in the head.
It's an interesting idea, unfortunately mired by Cage's trademark design. Beyond plays almost exactly like Heavy Rain. You don't control Jodie or Aiden per se. Instead, you either follow button prompts as they flash on screen, or passively walk your character through enclosed, linear environments. It's not totally restrictive - there are dialogue options and you can explore smaller areas and pick up things at random to interact with - but Beyond is mostly on-rails.
It would have been better if players were given more freedom.
And I don't mean that in a spoiled, "I am a gamer, I must be allowed to do as I like in games" kind of way. I mean it would have made Aiden a more interesting character. Aiden isn't controlled by Jodie. It's a separate entity, and it sometimes gets angry with Jodie for not doing what it likes. There's a fantastic scene where she's trying to get ready for a date and Aiden is throwing a tantrum. It starts off small, with a few chairs tipping over, and then escalates, until Jodie steps out of the shower to find "You don't need him, you have ME" written on the bathroom mirror.
I'd like to have explored that dynamic when I myself was playing. Again, there are some small freedoms - Jodie might be sleeping, say, and you have the decision, as Aiden, whether or not to wake her up. But when it comes to the big sequences, the action sequences, everything runs like clockwork. Jodie says "Aiden, distract those guards" and you switch to Aiden and distract the guards.
Accuse me of bloodlust, but I'd have liked the option to be more malicious. There were times when it felt Aiden would have been angry at Jodie and instead of distracting the guards, would have made them all kill themselves or something. Freedom like that, I think, would have allowed me to create a more interesting story. You can see the gears working in Beyond. In one scene Aiden is one thing, in another, for the sake of narrative convenience, it's something completely different. You can't help but feel cheated.
Nevertheless, Beyond is the best game Cage has written to date. The relationship between Jodie and Aiden is particularly well-done. The spirit treats Jodie like an abusive lover, chasing away her prospective friends, then coming back to comfort her when she starts crying. It's jealous, possessive and spiteful but also pretty much the only company Jodie has. There's a moment when Jodie tries to slit her wrists and Aiden grabs the knife away. That, I think, defines their relationship.
Clunky narrative cliché
It's also, at points, genuinely frightening. There are these creepy off moments that drop on you without warning, like when Jodie is playing with her dolls and you notice see of them is moving without her touching it. You should play Beyond alone at night. It's better that way.
Sadly, for each understated scare, there's a clunky narrative cliché, or a stock character, or a terrible line of dialogue. There's an extended out-of-nowhere sequence where you're fighting ghosts on an old native American reserve, and the Willem Defoe character, well-performed though he is, undergoes this sudden, inexplicable personality transformation right at the end of the game, just so Cage can have a tangible antagonist.
There's a shady Army general, a mysterious mute old woman and an overreacting comical black guy. A lot of Beyond is badly written. There are some excellent moments, but mostly, it's sub-Lindelhof type stuff.
But like Tim Clark, who reviewed Heavy Rain for Official PlayStation magazine, I still want to give David Cage and Beyond: Two Souls a thumbs-up, if only for sheer ballsiness. This is a game where you have to deliver a homeless woman's baby in a warehouse. Where you play as a ghost, stealing documents from an Iraqi embassy. Where you shake the controller to add salt to a curry you're making. There's a bit where you possess a horse. You fight ghosts underwater.
And best of all, there's no knowingness about it. There are no bits where characters sort of look at the camera like "hey, isn't this crazy?" It's totally in earnest. It reminds me of what Charlie Brooker said about Manimorph. It might be a bit rubbish, but at least they tried it - at least they didn't make just another hospital drama.
Beyond: Two Souls is unlike any videogame I've ever played.
It's not the result of market research. It's not interested in what's selling right now. Flaws and all, it's one man's vision. That's not something I can say that for many other games, which often feel smoothed over and polished and tailored to demographics.
David Cage isn't a great artist, but at least he's an artist - at least he has the confidence to make and sell his own ideas rather than everyone else's. People like that are rare in videogames. I can't wait to see what he does next.
- Gameplay: 6/10 - Controls are fiddly, a la Heavy Rain, and it's all very protective and linear. But I appreciate scenes where you're just making dinner or getting dressed. They're so unusual.
- Sound: 7/10 - Great acting by Page and Defoe, though the support cast is a little shaky. The music is your usual generic orchestral videogame score.
- Graphics: 9/10 - Not only is Beyond a great-looking game, the multitude of different colours and environment is wonderful. It's my new desktop wallpaper.
- Writing: 8/10 - This is hard to quantify. So much of Beyond is rubbish, but there are these sporadic standout moments. And like I said, I love the sheer boldness of it. Such a unique game.
- Replay value: 7/10 - I'm not interested myself, but there are loads of different speech options and endings to explore. Still though, it's mostly a closed experience.
- Overall: 9/10 - I've thought about it a lot and I'm almost certain now that I love Beyond. Maybe that opinion will change again in a few days. I don't know. But right now, I feel like I've never played anything like this. It's brand new and just so brave. David Cage and Quantic Dream's best game to date.
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