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