Beyond: Two Souls is a new media interactive experience, starring two well known Hollywood names, Ellen Page, star of Juno, Inception, and erm... well that's about it really. And Willem Dafoe, best known for ohh, probably Spiderman. They are both actors, and Dafoe's career is long and distinguished, but neither of them are "A-listers".
Remember that time when books, movies and games had a linear narrative? Where writers paid heed to their English teachers' advice that stories should have a start - where the scene is set and a the characters are introduced; a middle, where the plot and the characters develop, and an ending, (or if they were highbrow stories, a denouement
), where matters are resolved, and the guy in the white hat rides off into the sunset. Such story telling served the human race well for thousands of years.
Then HG Wells invented the idea of the Time Machine, and suddenly, stories were free to have a non-linear narrative. Writers approached this frightening new concept with caution. After all, with great power comes great responsibility.
So, for a while, we were treated to a few flashbacks, but tastefully done, and absolutely vital to the plot. And that was it! Stories still started at or near the beginning and finished at or near the end.
introduced the idea that you could plug lots of plot holes, cover up bad writing and create the impression of drama and tension by omitting loads of the story, and then retrofitting it later. You could even make yourself seem like a clever "everything is connected in ways we could never imagine" writer by just slapping a bit of inconsequential detail in down the line.Beyond: Two Souls
buys wholeheartedly in the post-Lost
non-linear story structure landscape. The game, an interesting mix up of Carrie
and La Femme Nikita
(or a hundred other influences, feel free to insert your own).
It jumps around the chronological place with absolute abandon. It's a simple story really: a girl (Jodie) has a link to a powerful parapsychological/metaphysical entity called Aiden, but pronounced Iden. She inevitably gets absorbed into some shady quasi-governmental agency. Later she joins the CIA. Then she has the "I'm a monster" moment, and quits the CIA in a fit of pique and a moment of conscience.
Then they come after her. Then everything blows up, bodies everywhere, buckets of blood falling from the gym roof (sorry, no, that's Carrie
again - but there ARE buckets of blood!). Really it's a story (or two mashed together) that you've seen a dozen times before.
So, how to make it seem new and interesting? Easy, let's mix it up a bit, jump abruptly from Jodie's troubled childhood to her happy days at CIA boot camp and then to now, where everyone who comes near her wants a piece of her, and she just wants to be left alone, then back to her childhood, most of which she seems to have spent terrorising neighbourhood kids.
It's a giddy ride that certainly adds a thick veneer of non-linearity to the mix. But that's all it adds. It doesn't add drama, or depth, or insight into the character. It adds variety - something the game badly needs because Beyond: Two Souls
is barely a game. It's a new media experience, an interactive movie… a shambles.
Even as an interactive experience Beyond
is not without its shortcomings. It is not a free roaming experience. You are pretty tightly tramlined, and often the control of the camera is wrested from you and you cannot even look at parts of the environment. You can interact with very few items in the game world, and those with which you can are heavily cued by means of a white dot on them.
Action sequences are equally heavy-handed: the action goes into slow-motion, and you have to use the right stick to "control" Jodie's movements by pressing in one of the four ordinal directions.
So, as you approach a low obstacle, press up to vault it, as you approach a higher obstacle, press down to duck beneath it. If you want to punch or kick someone, press in the direction your foot or arm is moving on screen. Not only is it slightly tedious, but it is also counter-intuitive at times. But it's not interactive, and its not immersive.