Be­yond a game

Be­yond: Two Souls takes the story-driven video game into ex­cit­ing new ter­ri­tory, writes IGN ed­i­tor Lucy O’brien

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WHILE the line be­tween block­buster video game and block­buster movie is be­com­ing in­creas­ingly blurry, few main­stream game de­vel­op­ers are fo­cus­ing on the medium as a means to tell sto­ries grounded in emo­tion and hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence.

French game de­vel­oper Quan­tic Dream is some­what iso­lated in its am­bi­tion and con­tin­ues to aim high within the ‘‘ in­ter­ac­tive story’’ genre.

The stu­dio’s lat­est ef­fort, Be­yond: Two Souls, is not a tra­di­tional video game with a cast of voice ac­tors — it’s a unique, story-driven ex­pe­ri­ence star­ring Ellen Page ( Juno, In­cep­tion) in its cen­tral role and veteran Willem Dafoe as her men­tor. This is a game that wants to make you feel.

Be­yond: Two Souls fo­cuses on 15 years in the life of Jodie (Page), a girl lit­er­ally tied to an in­vis­i­ble but phys­i­cally dis­rup­tive spirit called Ai­den.

The player is able to switch be­tween the vul­ner­a­ble Jodie and the di­aphanous spirit at any moment, a me­chanic which drives both game­play and nar­ra­tive.

‘‘ Of course no­body is tied to an en­tity in real life,’’ says Be­yond’s game­play di­rec­tor Caro­line Mar­chal. ‘‘ But the ex­pe­ri­ence will ap­peal to peo­ple be­cause many of us felt dif­fer­ent, es­pe­cially when we were grow­ing up. That’s what Be­yond is; it’s really a story about grow­ing up.’’

Be­yond’s cen­tral idea comes from the mind of game di­rec­tor David Cage, who started writ­ing it af­ter a fam­ily mem­ber died. Un­able to grap­ple with the sharp re­al­ity of death, Cage took pen to pa­per and cre­ated the life of Jodie. ‘‘ When some­one you’re close to dies, it’s really quite bru­tal,’’ ex­plains Cage.

‘‘ This per­son was there one sec­ond ago, they were feel­ing emo­tions and they had mem­o­ries. And the next sec­ond they’ve gone. But gone where? Where is this per­son now? And there is no real an­swer. And I was never a re­li­gious guy, so I started to think about my own ex­pla­na­tions.’’

With th­ese heavy, over­ar­ch­ing themes, it’s un­sur­pris­ing that Be­yond is un­afraid to ex­plore darker ter­ri­tory than one would usu­ally see in a main­stream video game.

Early game­play footage takes Jodie through a sui­cide at­tempt, a rob­bery and, in one un­com­fort­able yet un­de­ni­ably ar­rest­ing moment, the de­liv­ery of a baby on the dirty floor of a slum.

To an­chor Cage’s bold and grim ma­te­rial, Page is de­liv­er­ing a re­mark­ably in­ti­mate per­for­mance all the way from Jodie’s child­hood through to adult­hood.

But she’s not adrift in the un­canny val­ley of awk­ward video game fa­cial ex­pres­sions. The ac­tress is able to emote very clearly thanks to Quan­tic’s per­for­mance-cap­ture tech­nol­ogy that is surely push­ing at the lim­i­ta­tions of the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of home video game con­soles.

‘‘ We hope this ex­cep­tional stan­dard of per­for­mance is what will woo play­ers,’’ says ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer Guil­laume de Fon­dau­miere. ‘‘ It’s not about slap­ping a name on a box to sell copies.’’

While its story is the rea­son for its ex­is­tence, Be­yond is still there to be played, although Quan­tic wants play­ers to fuss about with the con­troller as lit­tle as pos­si­ble.

In the ma­jor­ity of sce­nar­ios — even those fea­tur­ing fre­netic com­bat — ac­tion is con­trolled with the right thumb­stick of the PlayS­ta­tion 3, with no on-screen prompts.

The in­ten­tion is to stream­line ac­tion to the point where play­ers stop notic­ing but­ton presses in or­der to keep their fo­cus on the nar­ra­tive.

‘‘ Cage and I, we’re not fight­ing each other,’’ con­tin­ues Mar­chal. ‘‘ Game­play is there to make the player play the story.’’ Be­yond: Two Souls will be re­leased in Oc­to­ber ex­clu­sively for the PlayS­ta­tion 3.

Ex­cep­tional per­for­mance: Willem Dafoe in

Souls.

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