For David Cage, game development is like a form of therapy. The founder of Quantic Dream uses the medium to work through his personal issues. "Heavy Rain," he said, dealt with his anxiety about fatherhood, which was represented by the constant worry protagonist Ethan Mars had for his son.
Recently, Cage said that he lost someone close to him and dealing with that loss helped fuel his latest project, "Beyond: Two Souls." The game focuses on Jodie Holmes, played by Ellen Page, who has a unique bond with a supernatural entity named Aiden. As a girl, she was raised in a government lab by researcher Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe) and eventually drafted into the CIA.
In short vignettes, the campaign hopscotches through 15 years of her life. It's a muddled picture that crystallizes into a person and shows Jodie as a fugitive, a homeless woman and a spy. As the narrative jumps back and forth through her memories, players sculpt how the recollections are formed. "Beyond" doesn't have branching narratives per se, but players can shape the story's finer points based on choices and their performance in quick-time events.
For example, a decision during an interrogation could force a change to an ally's physical appearance. That's a minor detail. However, there are scenes where a performance can lead to divergent scenarios -- one where Jodie is captured, and another where she fends off a small army. Both scenes end with the same words, but how players arrive at the moment is different. Fans will have a great time comparing notes on their experiences and experimenting with chapters to see "Beyond's" 23 endings.
Quantic Dream excels at this style of gaming. It builds choice into the gameplay so that nearly every action has an effect on the story. It changes how players interact with the game, encouraging them to role play. Because they can't get a game-over screen, they want to mold the narrative in their own way instead of gamifying it.
"Beyond: Two Souls" won't be for everyone. It's more of a cinematic adventure rather than a visceral shooter. It straddles the line between movie and interactive experience. It's full of quick-time events -- moments where players must press the right buttons within a time limit to succeed.
To diversify gameplay, the team added stealth elements and action sequences, but they feel more guided than anything else. The best gameplay feature is the ability to control Aiden. The entity adds a puzzle-solving dimension in some chapters. In others, it aids in stealth as players use the entity to scout. It's even helpful during battles. As players experience Jodie's life, they will unlock the mystery behind their connection.
As for the story itself, it's predictable in spots. The dialogue is hokey in places, and some chapters don't fit the tone. But compared to "Heavy Rain," "Beyond" has fewer plot holes. Unfortunately, that comes at the expense of a plot that's not as tight and meanders to extraneous and out-of-place moments. (I don't buy Page as a paranormal Rambo.) But it does have moments that games don't explore, and those are the chapters where "Beyond" is at its best.
'Beyond: Two Souls'
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Platform: PlayStation 3