â€śDid you like the game?â€ť
â€śWell itâ€™s not really a game, as such. Itâ€™s more like a movie where you control bits.â€ť
â€śSo did you like the movie?â€ť
This is the crux of it. Beyond: Two Souls is a pretty great, kind of long, sci-fi supernatural thriller about Jodie - a young girl - and the spirit Aiden attached to her with a supernatural tether. The game elements are pretty much walking with occasional quicktime-style actions. This is not a bad thing, but it is an odd thing.
There arenâ€™t many game elements, so let me get them out of the way.
When you get full control of Jodie, the left thumbstick does the usual walking around but the right stick doesnâ€™t do the usual looking around. Instead youâ€™ll use the right thumbstick to do actions like opening doors and investigating items. Stuff you can interact with is denoted by a white dot. Itâ€™s very simple.
In more â€śaction heavyâ€ť areas, you might be required to shake the controller, press buttons in a sequence, or perform other busy-work. It often feels a little silly, but how else do you simulate cleaning a room (seriously, one level gets you to tidy up Jodie's apartment)?
Controlling Aiden is bit more complicated as he floats in three dimensions. Aiden can only interact with certain elements in the world - usually bumping things or knocking them over - by focussing on them and moving both thumbsticks in particular directions. Aidenâ€™s cool power is that he can incapacitate enemies and sometimes take them over.
Aiden is constrained by the tether to Jodie, so while he can travel through walls he canâ€™t stray too far away. Often this means having to draw enemies closed before they can be removed.
The most interesting control aspect is that if you want you can use your smartphone to control the characters. Downloading the Beyond: Touch app (Android, Apple, Windows Phone) and running it on the same WiFi network as your PlayStation gives you another controller. This will also work in two player mode (one player is Jodie, the other is Aiden.) I played the first few sequences with the app and was happily surprised with its ease of use, but I reverted to the PS3 controller for a greater range of motion.
There are some combat sequences in the game and these are done with very simple quicktime-esque controls (press X now, etc.) At a couple of points youâ€™ll also be required to drive a vehicle, but if youâ€™re hoping for a GTA-level of control, youâ€™ll be disappointed.
Oddly itâ€™s the gameplay features that let the game down for me. The movements are a little jerky and simplicity of it is not mirrored in the complex storyline.
The story of Jodieâ€™s starts in a police station, after she has been picked up by a friendly Sheriff. Jodie has clearly been in some trouble - her shaved head reveals a large scar. This episode, like many in the story, is short and serves more to establish the character than make you play a game.
The motion and facial capture techniques used to make Beyond have created characters that you can truly empathise with. Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe (who actually act out the key roles) both put their all into their work, and it shows -.neither seem to have phoned in their performances simply because they spent their days covered in dots and surrounded by green screens.
The episodes are played out in a haphazard fashion throughout Jodieâ€™s life. You see her as a child, a rebellious teenager, and as a young woman. Despite the non-chronological sequence, the story develops in a wonderfully linear fashion. Secrets in the past are hidden until later in the game that not only explain previous story elements but also lead into greater secrets and twists.
While this is clearly a strong narrative you do get to influence it. At various points, you control how conversations flow and make life choices for Jodie. This doesnâ€™t seem to change much beyond the episode that you are currently playing, however I found it a wonderful way to destroy some of the Hollywood tropes that inevitably slide their way in.
Aidenâ€™s role is as a protector of Jodie, but as the story continued I couldnâ€™t help but feel that I was the same. I suppose thatâ€™s the role of anyone playing a game, youâ€™re there to make sure your character doesnâ€™t die. But after youâ€™ve played as Jodie as a little girl, itâ€™s hard not to feel overly protective of her.
There are echoes of a number of films in Beyond, especially the horror classic Carrie (about a bullied young woman with paranormal powers) and the Sixth Sense. During one particular scene (that I wonâ€™t spoil) I was so tense in my choices for Jodie because the sense of something dreadful happening that I kept playing it safe (to no avail I might add). This tension about trying to help Jodie be a normal teenager (whatever a normal teenager is) by hiding her powers eases as the game progresses.
This doesnâ€™t mean that the overall tension eases, but it changes. Different conflicts arise and new mysteries are brought up. And horror.
If you ever want to make something scary just add creepy children, darkness, and dead people. I made the mistake of playing one incredibly creepy sequence just before going to sleep.
Story is everything in this game. Jodie is a shattered human and the story is constructed so you see her broken over and over and then attempting to rebuild. The beautiful graphics and facial expressions bond you to Jodie, and the raw emotion embodied by Aiden is conveyed not via gameplay but by sound design and the reactions of the supporting cast. By the end of the game you are as connected to Jodie as Aiden is.