Game Reviews - Reviews

Beyond: Two Souls (Sony, PS3)


It’s fair to say that Heavy Rain, the last outing from development team Quantic Dream, changed the way people think about videogames – and the way they play them. Deeply cinematic in nature, it attempted to weave together multiple storylines into one coherent and engaging whole. A noir murder mystery at heart, it starred the classic archetypes of spent detectives, deadbeats and sinister loners but imbued them with the kind of humanity which rarely appears in this medium. Further, it was at times deeply unsettling: a sequence in which a father searches in vain for his missing son in a crowded mall was a masterpiece of sustained tension, albeit a troubling one. It touched the same nerve of primal, parental instinct prodded and jabbed by Bioshock and The Last Of Us, and hardwired gaming memories which were difficult to forget.

Beyond: Two Souls may not carry on the self-contained storyline from Heavy Rain but it inhabits the same spiritual realm. An apt description, as it concerns paranormal activity. Jodie is a young woman gifted – or cursed, depending on your opinion – with a psychic link to an entity she names “Aiden”. An imaginary friend of sorts although one who has the ability to interact with the human world. His activities range from mischief making to vindictive acts of malice. The game follows a non-linear narrative, and hops like a Morris dancer between different snapshots from Jodie’s life. We see her as a young girl in a sinister federal department (aren’t all federal departments sinister?), where she is experimented upon by the same kind of spooks who tormented Mulder and Scully. We see her as a gawky teenager being bullied, Carrie style, by the high school jocks and mean girls. We see her as a grown woman carrying out espionage in a Middle Eastern palace. The seemingly scattershot nature of these episodes come together to make a pleasing whole which tells a more expansive story. Also, it says something about how the way in which memory works – it never travels in a straight line from point A to point B.

As Beyond: Two Souls has both the structure and feel of a movie it would be foolish to reveal too many more spoilers here. Suffice to say, as in Heavy Rain, there are many moments where the player is made to feel uncomfortable. There is no denying how odd it is deciding whether you should allow Jodie to make out with a lunkish studmuffin or give him the brush off, and there is a keen sense of guilt in making Aiden do bad things: he can scatter a deck of psychic reading cards or he can choke the woman holding them. The ramifications of these choices are not as far-reaching as those in Heavy Rain, and as in games of this type there is always the suspicion that it is playing you more than you are playing it. However, it deserves for its sheer refusal to resist the mainstream, as do Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, who play the main leads in this psychological morality fable. Ross Thompson