Beyond: Two Souls
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Game Reviewed: Beyond: Two Souls
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Quantic Dream
Platform: Playstation 3
Category: Adventure, Interactive Fiction
ESRB Rating: M
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David Cage has always valued storytelling above all else in his games. His previous two endeavors, Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, both minimized gameplay elements in favor of giving the player control over a complex and engrossing story (to varying degrees of success) with cinematic visuals. Though Cage’s work generally has little to offer in terms of challenge and gameplay, there is a lot to be said for the amount of control the player has over the story.
Now we have Beyond: Two Souls, his latest effort to bring interactive, cinematic storytelling to the Playstation 3. It is one of the first games to heavily feature movie actors, with two of the major roles being played by Ellen Paige and Willem Dafoe. The game uses very impressive motion capture technology to let the actors play their parts entirely, with every movement of their body translated into the game graphics with stunning accuracy.
Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie Holmes, a girl who has been tied to an unknown spiritual entity (who she calls Aiden) since birth. The story skips around through various important parts of her life: her childhood with parents who were scared of her, her adolescence in a testing facility, her later work with the CIA, and many other stages in her life, controlling both her and Aiden as we see what kind of life is led by a girl with an extraordinary gift, and just as extraordinary a curse.
The story enters some pretty dark places, so it’s no surprise it’s rated M. Let’s see what for.
What Parents Need to Know
There is a lot of violence, from gunshots to spiritual entities slamming people against walls and throwing them brutally across the room. However, it never gets particularly graphic. There is blood (the worst of which is probably a scene in which a character has an eye taken out, but even then it is not directly shown), but no real gore despite the brutality of some of the violence.
The F-word and most profanities below it are used fairly regularly.
There are a few shower scenes (one of which is optional), which sometimes show the curve of Jodie’s breasts from behind, but never display full-on nudity. She is, however, seen in her underwear in a couple scenes. One scene implies potential sexual activity (with two characters kissing on a bed), but does not lead to it. Another scene involves the threat of rape.
The game is centered on the existence of another world, where souls go after death. It is never fully explained, but it is portrayed as a tangible and accessible dimension. Aiden, the entity attached to Jodie, is one such soul. Thus, the game involves communicating with the dead through scientifically-created dimensional rifts, and in one case, through native American tribal rituals (both of which turn out very poorly).
There is one scene where the player helps a woman give birth, and multiple flashbacks of another birth. It should also be noted that the player is allowed to sometimes make immoral choices, though to the end of the major point of the game, not just for the sake of depravity.
Beyond: Two Souls seems, at first, to be the ultimate boon for Cage’s critics. There is not much clear control over the story, the cinematic nature of the game and simplified gameplay mechanics very clearly paint it as an interactive story instead of a “game” as one might traditionally think of it, and the nonlinear storytelling doesn’t really help the game’s point so much as it hurts its flow.
But in the end, the player’s choices do lead up to something. The game just doesn’t choose it for you. Whereas most games present choices and show you the consequences, Beyond: Two Souls asks you to make many choices, then asks you what those all culminate to in the end. You see Jodie’s life, the good times and the bad, the important experiences that lead her to that pivotal moment at the end. Then the game lets you decide what it all means with one final choice. The game is pretty flawed, and the journey to that point will sometimes seem less than compelling, but it does all have meaning in the end, and I think it came together pretty well when it finally did.
As for content, this is an adult story, but not as much as I had expected. Really, the language is about all there is keeping it to an M-rating. The story doesn’t go as dark as many other M-rated games, and the violence is more graphic on many prime time television shows. You can decide whether this is appropriate for your child, of course, but I don’t think there’s enough here to warrant being as careful as you might be with many other games.