Beyond: Two Souls review – an essential purchase for interactive-drama fans

Beyond David Cage PS3

You’ll probably think I’m crazy when I tell you I’ve been looking forward to Beyond: Two Souls more than any other game this year. Especially as we’re just a few weeks downstream of the generation-defining GTA 5’s arrival. But here’s the thing: we all knew Rockstar’s game was going to be astounding. It’d be Grand Theft Auto, but better. Beyond, however, is a ticket to the side of the medium where there are no footprints in the snow.

Beyond: Two Souls review

With its superstar billing and supernatural bent, Quantic Dream’s ambitious latest project could either have been a bold and beautiful game-changer or a disastrous 12-hour cutscene punctuated by missed Sixaxis gestures. Thank God someone’s prepared to take that considerable risk. Thank Ellen Page, an endearingly inconsistent 2,000-page script and a Parisian studio suddenly emerging as a technical powerhouse that risk paid off.

You might have noticed that Beyond’s stupendously pretty, on a level that we’d expect from a decent next-gen game. The uncanny facial animation was a given, but the lighting, texture resolution and environmental detail were not. Very occasionally, it even eclipses The Last Of Us’ eye-shredding fidelity. Who knew Quantic Dream would set PS3’s graphical high point?

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A subtler incarnation of Heavy Rain’s button-prompt-led control scheme returns to drive Beyond’s 15-year story, which hits its predecessor out of the park in terms of production values, and delves deeper into the kind of sci-fi seen in last year’s Kara demo. There is a trade-off when using QTEs over bespoke mechanics: you lose explicit control, but gain in the range of actions – and therefore situations – that are possible.

Boy, does Quantic Dream take that idea to heart. You do a hundred strange new things in Beyond, and those novel experiences are thrown your way at such a rate you begin to feel like you’re playing six or seven games at once. On one hand, it’s silly. On the other, it’s medicine for gaming ADD: you’re horse riding. Now you’re delivering a baby. Fighting off demons. Begging for change. “Still paying attention?” David Cage seems to be asking between every scene. “Good.”

The quality of those scenes inevitably rises and dips like the polygraph of a deceitful boyfriend on a talk show, but through it all, Ellen Page’s performance as Jodie Holmes is astonishing. She’s the lynchpin that holds all the madness together with a painfully human presence. Cast Kristen Stewart in the role and the whole house of cards would fall down, but throw Juno in a room of make-believe car doors covered in ping-pong balls and somehow you end up with a frighteningly convincing avatar capable of setting a scene alight with a meaningful glance.

Ellen Page’s performance is astonishing.
She’s the lynchpin that holds the madness together with a painfully human presence

Her co-star is Aiden, the ethereal entity bound to her from birth. He goes where she goes, sees what she sees, and interacts with our world by moving objects, giving folk chills, possessing people and even straight-up choking a fool when it’s called for. He’s also clearly a big M Night Shyamalan fan, opening cabinets and stacking chairs atop tables to express himself like The Sixth Sense. Horror is just one of Beyond’s many flavours.

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