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» Beyond: Two Souls: Positively Astonishing, Falls Shy of Potential

by Jen, published on October 7, 2013

In 2005, David Cage‘s aspiration to create a cinematic experience through video games took its first flight. Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit) would be the catalyst for Cage’s and Quantic Dream‘s ambitious endeavor, creating a new style of gameplay through motion-captured performances and unique story-telling.

When Beyond: Two Souls debuted back in 2012, it was clear that it would Quantic Dream’s most impassioned and ambitious work yet. With some exceedingly large boots to fill, Beyond: Two Souls charted down their determined course: To create a supernatural action-thriller movie game.

The Beginning:

Beyond: Two Soul‘s inception began when the game’s creator, David Cage attended a funeral. Anyone who’s attended a funeral in their lifetime understands the sort of existential crisis that comes thereafter. When you lose someone close to you, as Cage had, you seem to obsess over who they were, how could they be gone, and where do we all end up. “It’s a very shocking experience, death,” explained Cage in an interview with Kotaku, “When you’re confronted by it, it’s terrible.” In turn, Cage decided to write a story about death, one can only assume as part of his healing process, ultimately taking the biggest heartbreak life has to offer anyone and turning it into a healing experience for all.

As Cage began the process, he began to imagine who these people are and, most importantly, who Jodie is. He searched Google images for some time before happening upon an image of Ellen Page at 16 and immediately knew she was Jodie. For 12-months, Cage sat and hammered out the story, staring at Page’s photo, memorizing her face. When Cage finally arranged to meet her, it was almost a celestial experience. How do you introduce yourself to someone you have never spoken to yet stared at for months and feel you’ve known a lifetime?

“It was so strange to see her walking to our table. When we met for the first time I really saw Jodie Holmes, not Ellen Page,” stated Cage in his interview with Kotaku. “I remember thinking as she walked to our table, I hope that when she starts talking, she will still be Jodie Holmes, that she won’t disappear and become someone completely different.”

After Cage explained the project and the copious amount of work that were to go into the game, he became frightened she would decline. He had never written Jodie with anyone else in mind, how could he continue the project without the protagonist? But by the day’s end, Cage’s worries were replaced with exultation when Page agreed to be his Jodie.

Story:

Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page – Juno, Inception, Whip It) has a gift. Not necessarily a gift she or her parents had wished for but a gift, nonetheless. Since birth, Jodie has lived with a supernatural being, Aiden, by her side. No-one knows exactly what or who Aiden is, not even Jodie. But when her family decides that it has become too much for them to handle, they release her to two paranormal researchers’ (Willem Dafoe — Boondock Saints, The English Patient, Spider-Man; Kadeem Hardison — A Different World, White Men Can’t Jump) care.

We follow Jodie through her tumultuous life by jumping back and forth through a 20-something-year span, only getting bite-sized, pertinent information in each section. As the story builds momentum through Jodie’s various and vastly differentiating roles in life, we begin to gather how much she and Aiden are really alike. She consistently supports her friends and adopted family by being whatever vessel needed at any desired time. As you begin to build an emotional bond through the enveloping feature, you truly begin to feel sorrow for Jodie — who remains strong, loyal, and magnificently empathetic.

At some point in the story, you just begin to roll with how wacky of a premise the game really is. Brilliantly acted and remarkably mesmeric, the hours begin to wiz by. Even if you’re not by standard definition a gamer, screwing up action sequences ultimately makes for a more exciting scene. At times I even found myself purposefully missing hits or dodging shots just to fuel the further adrenaline in the unfolding spectacle.

However, somewhere in the middle, things become a bit muddled. What had originally started off so extraordinarily began to unravel into an occasional incoherent mess, generally fueled by the CIA missions. While the highest points of the game do reside in the middle when Jodie meets the Navajo and the homeless, Beyond devotes a good chunk of its time to the CIA aspect of the story — which is bizarre, frequently boring, and ultimately what ruined the game’s full potential, rendering itself largely unnecessary.

Beyond: Two Souls‘ ends up being a bit of a heartbreak, seeing so much potential fall just shy of becoming the company’s epitome. This was a game so many fans, myself included, had fervently awaited. However, despite being disappointed by a copious amount of the CIA missions, the rest of the game not only met but exceeded expectations. A brilliantly poignant story with a plethora of ending variations, good old Quantic Dream singularity, ever-changing story choices and their results, and one helluva well-told supernatural tale: Beyond: Two Souls‘ good moments more than make up for its just-shy-of-the-mark ones.

Capturing the Cinematic Experience (graphics):

As Quantic Dream’s idea to create an expansive and immersing vision climbs into the future, graphic possibilities begin to catch-up to their original concept. Obviously, with that said, Beyond is without a doubt their greatest pictorial achievement thus far. The “cut” and action sequences are so congruent that you’ll sometimes forget it’s time to make a dialogue choice.

Even so, when will Quantic Dream’s character’s hands catch-up to their faces? They are so horrendously distracting that you can only think about how awful they look placed next to the actor’s impeccable face, sometimes so diverting you miss important dialogue. It’s painful, just like watching someone violently fall in a slow-motion recap. Wholly, it’s a small complaint especially when considering how much work had gone into the rest of the characters, but that’s also the reason it’s so agonizing to see.

In all fairness, the minor texturing glitches and horrific looking hands shouldn’t take away from an otherwise gorgeous marvel. This is a game so well-designed and acted that a second person could enjoy simply watching the game — and that’s exactly what Quantic Dream has always set out to do.

Summarized Impressions:

Story:
  • At some point you just accept how wacky the story really is and go with it.
  • Screwing up sequences often times makes so a more exciting scene.
  • Exciting beginning, messy middle, and fantastic end choices/sequences.
  • While the highest points of the story are Jodi’s time with the Navajo, homeless, and her ghostly scares, Beyond devotes most of its time to the CIA story which is bizarre, boring, and ultimately what ruined the game’s potential.
  • Although the CIA aspect is an understandable angle, it throws the rest of the story out of whack and renders itself unnecessary.
Characters:
  • Phenomenally acted, humanly empathetic, and fantastically depicted, each character plays a pivotal role in Jodie’s life and plays their roles perfectly in her world.
  • Even smaller characters in the game are fully realized, in turn becoming their own living, breathing beings and making the game a more complete realization.
Graphics/Motion Capture:
  • Faces look amazing yet the hands still look awful.
  • Phenomenal performances by the actors, laboriously and beautifully captured.
  • Minor glitches and lots of texturing and environmental errors plague the game throughout.
Gameplay/Controls:
  • Disorienting controls at first, most of which you get used to. However, certain spots like the ever-changing camera angles, healing and visions with Aiden, and clunky action sequences will always throw you for a loop.
  • Touchscreen device app looks to include newer gamers to the fold.
  • 2-player option is interesting, and looks to immerively include other parties — particularly by attempting to draw in non-gamers, cinephiles.
Sound:
  • Although I love HD gaming headsets, I don’t usually recommend them. This is one title that should be experienced with one.
  • Legendary composer Hans Zimmer and Assassin’s Creed 3′s Lorne Balfe created 2-hours of full orchestral sets beautifully capturing the movie-going experience. The team had previously collaborated for projects such as Inception, Dark Knight Rises, and Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2. The duo replaced the late composer Normand Corbeil who had passed away in January — the game is dedicated in his honor.
Overall Score:

Let’s break this down: A couple of French guys sought to make an ostentatious supernatural action-thriller and [somehow] succeeded. Despite having an unfortunate number of apparent flaws, particularly in the middle, the end beautifully wraps up an otherwise immensely pleasurable game.

Wildly imaginative and admirably unusual, Beyond: Two Souls cleverly packages the cinematic experience into 12+ hours in a video game. Although this may not be the best we’ve seen from Quantic Dream, it was an overall success, well-worth the first play-through and deserving of the second.

3.5 out of 5

Source: /thisisanothercastle.com

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