Beyond: Two Souls, starring Ellen Page, blurs line between games and film
Actors (from left) Kadeem Hardison, Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe join game creator David Cage at the Beyond: Two Souls Paris premiere on October 2. (Kristy Sparow/Getty Images)
You might be forgiven if you think Beyond: Two Souls is a Hollywood film instead of a video game. The cover features a digital render of actor Ellen Page, who plays the lead character Jodie. Page and co-star Willem Dafoe's names are listed at the top of all promotional materials.
But this is the latest PlayStation 3 game from David Cage, head of French studio Quantic Dream. Following the trend of his murder mystery Heavy Rain from 2010, Beyond: Two Souls blurs the line more and more between film and games.
Players spend most of their time controlling Jodie, a girl with a mysterious connection to an otherworldly spirit named Aiden. The game jumps between several points over 15 years in her life, from a young girl subjected to numerous scientific tests to a CIA agent deployed to Somalia.
Dafoe plays Nathan Dawkins, a government scientist and father figure tasked with studying Jodie's link with Aiden. Dafoe, Page and the rest of the cast were given digital life thanks to a high-tech motion capture studio.
Game play moves from the traditional scenarios, such as racing down a highway on a motorcycle, to directing Jodie's actions purely to progress the predetermined narrative - from choosing whether to respond in a conversation with empathy or hostility; or choosing what to make for dinner with the press of a button.
The player enjoys relatively more freedom when taking control of Aiden, a wispy stream of light that can travel through walls and possess other people in the vicinity for a short time.
Critical reception for Beyond is all over the map. Reviews praised the game for its realistic visuals and cinematic quality, but panned it for its convoluted storyline and cliché-filled script. Many likened it to "interactive drama" rather than a traditional game.
Noted actors Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are given top billing, as they would in a film, in the new video game Beyond: Two Souls. (Quantic Dream)
IGN's Lucy O'Brien says she has "never found assigning a number to a game so difficult." The Guardian's Nathan Ditum opted out of assigning it a score at all.
"It's unlike any game out there...and I'm not sure if that's a good or bad thing," writes Peter Nowak for the Globe and Mail. "I'm not even sure it's really a game."
"When you watch a film you can only be passive; you can't change what is going on the screen," Cage said in an interview with The Guardian, touting the game's interactivity.
But Beyond: Two Souls isn't always interactive in the same way that other narrative-based games are. Gamers have a hard time forming any consensus about Cage's works. Video game outlets' reviews panned it for the lack of consequences to the choices a player makes during the course of the game.
For gamers, the much-lauded term "choice and consequences" allows the player to decide the fate of their characters and the world they live in. Compared to games such as Mass Effect 3, when the player's choice can literally save a galaxy or destroy it, Beyond's plot will end more or less the same way regardless of what choices the player makes.
Beyond's flow certainly bears no similarity to the ultra-popular games with military shooters like the Call of Duty series, or the sandbox-style Grand Theft Auto 5, which allows players to roam a digital approximation of Los Angeles without choosing to follow the main storyline for dozens of hours at a time if they wish.
Critics and gamers alike can at least agree on one thing, though: Beyond: Two Souls isn't like any other big-budget video game released this year.
Have you played Beyond: Two Souls? What do you want from a video game: open-ended gameplay or an interactive narrative, or some mixture of both?
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