Beyond: Two Souls – an interactive movie / video game.

It’s Macabre & Mysterious Media Monday. (Formerly, Mondays were all about music, but I’m feeling the itch to be more inclusive.)

I’ve been meaning to write about Beyond: Two Souls since November. You may recall that my daughter came to Minnesota from North Carolina to celebrate Halloween with us. She was here for almost three weeks, which was awesome, but the inevitable final night and half-day of her visit arrived and we were at a loss about how to cope with it.

In this family of geeks and nerds, the answer was pretty simple – we rented a video game and marathoned it.

Now, understand that I don’t actually PLAY a lot of games myself, but over the years I’ve certainly had many opportunities to watch my kids play. I’ve seen an awful lot of brightly colored blips jump and spin across and around platforms. Even more often, I’ve seen swords and sorcery adventures unfolding on the big screen. I watch, sometimes, just because one or the other of my spawn wants to show me some exciting element in the latest game … usually flaming weapons or gravity defying parkour-type maneuvers. I ohh and ahh because I indulge my kids at every opportunity, but the truth is I don’t really care about the stories in the games.

Beyond: Two Souls was totally different, and I was intrigued from the first moment The Boy suggested it as something I’d like. I was completely on board after he showed me this trailer.

Ayup, those voice actors you just heard were Willem Dafoe and Ellen Page. Not bad.

GAME REQUIREMENTS:

PS3 console
1-2 players, each requiring a controller of their own

GAME DESCRIPTION FROM WIKIPEDIA:

The game centers around Jodie Holmes, who since birth has been connected to an entity named Aiden. After being left by her foster parents she is brought up by researchers Nathan Dawkins and Cole Freeman  who conduct research on the infraworld for the fictional United States Department of Paranormal Activity, the DPA.

We had to go to three different Redbox kiosks to find a copy of the game. Once we were at home again, we drew the blinds and switched off all the lights. The kids set up in office chairs in front of the TV, and Ogre and I snuggled in on the sofa under a blanket. For the next eleven or twelve hours the world of Beyond: Two Souls kept us all engaged and entertained. Somewhere around three o’clock in the morning, we had to sleep, but by ten the next morning, we were back in our places, determined to get through the complete story before it was time to take my daughter to the airport.

I never touched a controller, so I can’t tell you if the game controls are easy or hard. I know there was a little bitching as my kids figured out how to do certain actions but — because my kids are experienced gamers —  for me, this was one long, smooth interactive movie.

Beyond-Two-Souls-Gets-Emotional-and-Cinematic-Official-Cover-Art

And that’s what will make you love this game or hate it; it really is just movie.

This particular plot (involving government conspiracy and a ghostly entity) was right up my ally. That said, it’s not a great movie. It’s sort of predictable, and there are some problems with the plot. The motion capture, obtained by making the actors do this:

wda_epa_12_600x620

doesn’t work very well on the Dafoe character, in my opinion. (Either that, or he’s more of an over-actor than I remember.) Ellen Page, on the other hand, comes through beautifully.

Sometimes the motives of the characters don’t ring true. The bad guys in this are unremittingly bad. There are situations where it seems like the actions taken by Jodie could alter the way that some of these bad guys would act, but no matter what she does, there is a forgone conclusion. There are several love interests for Jodie, but none of them would make me look at them twice. (Well, that one guy isn’t too bad.) Honestly, I think there was too much emphasis on romance.

As a game, according to the kids, it leaves a lot to be desired. Even I could see “the rails” that forced certain actions, and made some choices basically moot. The game is advertised as having 23 possible endings, but we think it comes down to 11 or less. Though it technically allows two people to play (one as Jodie and one as her entity companion) they must take turns.

The list price of this game is steep: $69.99. Considering how fast we burned through it from start to finish, I’m not sure I’d want to invest that much money. There’s not much replay-ability here, once you’ve tried a few of the different endings. It is, however, still available in Redbox and I think it’s well worth the cost of a few night’s rental.

It seems like I’ve given this a lukewarm review, and I don’t want to leave you with that impression. Though there are problems with it, it was a great way for us to spend some low-stress but engaged time with each other. There were lots of opportunities to discuss which way we wanted to take the story. Once it was over, we had some really interesting conversation about the central themes of the game.

Also, the concept of interactive movie games fascinates me. The potential of the genre is mind-boggling. I’ve long thought that there aren’t enough alternatives to fast-twitch video games. I believe we need more puzzle-focused games, for those of us that enjoy the thrill of solution seeking but don’t want to invest years of our lives developing the reflexes of a fighter pilot. This is the style that could be used to create the kind of sandbox I want to play in: one well-stocked with layered, intricate, complex environments to explore.

To be fair, I want to share a video review by one of my son’s favorite professional reviewers, Yahtzee. Be prepared, he HATED this game. (But his review is funny if somewhat foul-mouthed. Warning: spoilers.)

If you try this game, you’re probably going to want the following links eventually. Warning: massive spoilers.

Here’s all the Beyond: Two Souls endings, and how to get them

Beyond: Two Souls Wiki

From Forbes Magazine — ‘Beyond: Two Souls’ Review: Paranormal Interactivity – This is a well-written, comprehensive review of the game, including detailed information about mechanics, plot and theme.

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14 Comments on “Beyond: Two Souls – an interactive movie / video game.”

  1. angryscholar says:

    I don’t own the requisite system so I haven’t played this, but your review tallies with other things I’ve heard about it. I’m not crazy about the inclusion of real actors’ likenesses thing, though. MoCap has always seemed kind of silly, knocking a peg out of the suspension of disbelief thing that’s necessary for a game world to be really engrossing. But that’s just me.

    Have you guys played Alan Wake? It’s also far from perfect (both as a game and a narrative), but it’s fun and innovative and scary.

    • I think we rented Alan Wake at one point. Trouble was our pet game-player (The Boy) didn’t like it, so we didn’t get to see much of the story. 🙂

      I agree about MoCap. I guess it makes sense on one level, because they want good acting, but I’ve seen animated characters with better expression. Again, this is something that will get better as technology advances, I suppose.

  2. I want to play too! This looks so interesting. The graphics in the games are just amazing.

    The only interactive game I play is Wii Just Dance.

  3. Hunter Shea says:

    Boy do I miss video games. I have to get back on the wagon. My all time favorite was Army Men where you battled with plastic army men. Loved melting them with the flame thrower. I used to miss work because I was up all night playing.

  4. Pooka says:

    I recall that my brother and I really got into our roles for awhile. I played Jodie, and he played Aiden. With a push of a button, I could switch control to Aiden in order to allow his entity-antics. This became more and more seamless between us as time went on, which likely only helped the cinematic experience.

    It may be worth noting that we only had one official PS3 controller, and the other was a Logitech USB gamepad for PCs that we discovered could also be plugged in to the PS3. For the most part it wasn’t a big deal. There were however a couple of times during play that we became temporarily stuck, because the Logitech did not have the advanced motion sensing capabilities of the PS3’s Sixaxis controller. For this we’d have to figure out which character needed use of the better controller, switch them out, and restart the scene to get through it.

    • Ladies and gentleman, my daughter 🙂

      Thank you for the tech talk, Pooka. I knew this was an issue, but didn’t know any of the terms I needed to explain it.

      • Pooka says:

        Not a problem. 😉

        I’d like to add that as a player, I really enjoyed Beyond Two Souls, even if it wasn’t the greatest gaming experience OR cinematic experience ever. Beyond Two Souls did its best to bring those two things together, and I would love to see more cinematic-action style games like this one in the future. It’s a genre that keeps trying to break into the entertainment world, but has a history of major struggles. A lot of this is due to lack of good acting talent, technology and so on, but we seem to have reached a point where those problems are fading away. I also think that charging the price of a full game for something that doesn’t have much replayability is another problem entirely, and it’s one that would have to be addressed for the genre to become super-popular.

        Okay, adjunct-review/agreements over!

        • I agree with you on all counts.

          It’s weird how so many video games are embedded in our family memory. (Sims, Empire Earth, that damn fish game, Second Life, etc.) Far more games than TV shows. But more books than games? (I hope.)

  5. Melanie says:

    Hi Renae– for some reason this reminded me of an upcoming TV show called Resurrection that may interest you. It is loosely based on the novel a local guy, Jason Mott, wrote called The Returned. It’s starting in early March.
    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt2647586/news?ref_=tt_pv_nw_sm


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