Pretty, rough diamond of a game

UNDER FIRE: A grown-up and moody Jodie goes on an assassination mission in Beyond: Two Souls, with Juno actress Ellen Page lending her voice, likeness and motion-captured performance to the character.


    Oct 08, 2013

    Pretty, rough diamond of a game

    BEYOND: Two Souls is one of the more interesting games I've played in a while.

    For one thing, the cinematic PlayStation 3 exclusive reminds me a lot of 2002's Japanese horror flick, Ju-On: The Grudge, which starred a long-haired female ghost who makes annoying throaty sounds.

    It's not that Beyond, billed as an "interactive drama", is spooky. Rather, it's how the game plays out. Like Ju-On, Beyond isn't told in order.

    The game - which traces 15 years of the life of protagonist Jodie Holmes and her ghostly companion, Aiden - has an introductory sequence where I'm helping a precocious kid Jodie tackle "psychic" tests with Aiden's help.

    And then in the next, I'm playing as a grown-up and moody Jodie on an espionage mission, with impish Juno actress Ellen Page lending her voice, likeness and convincing motion-captured performance to the character.

    This happens a lot in Beyond's 26 chapters. But telling the game's story out of sync builds on the mystery of who Jodie is, why she is on the run, and the paranormal nature of Aiden. At the same time, it still manages to gradually shed light on their motivations, with the occasional "Aha!" moment. But unlike Ju-On, Beyond is clearer about when a chapter takes place in the game's timeline

    And if you haven't already guessed, you also get to take on Aiden's role in Beyond.

    Playing as Jodie involves speaking with the many characters she'll meet, running from pursuers, cooking, tidying up her home and engaging in John Woo-esque slow-motion combat with simple controls. Pretty normal stuff.

    But playing as Aiden is a different ball game and a fun one at that. Like any self-respecting spectral entity, Aiden can pass through walls unseen.

    This sets up interesting situations, such as being able to listen in on optional conversations that Jodie can't hear.

    Aiden can also fling objects and break glass Poltergeist-style, as well as choke away at foes. Did I mention he can possess and control people, too?

    All these make segments with Aiden refreshing and even cool in some spots.

    But here's a hitch: What abilities are available to him are often scripted and situational. This means Aiden can sometimes possess a person but not his neighbour, which is weird.

    How far Aiden can wander away from Jodie, before she presumably doubles over in pain, seems haphazard, too.

    Even so, there are several situations in which there are different ways to solve a problem, depending on what ability of Aiden's I choose to wield.

    Then, there are moments when I can play as Aiden, The Friendly Ghost, or Aiden, The Overly Attached Spectre. This set me thinking about the reasons behind what he does.

    Similarly with Jodie, there are times when making sense of who she is up to me.

    Does she succumb to depression from being on the run, or does she strive to pull through?

    It's here that Beyond shines, allowing for a rather-personal journey for Jodie and Aiden. It helps that Page does a great job at portraying Jodie, which makes it easy to root for her.

    While many choices are there for role-playing purposes, there are several that can significantly alter how some scenes play out later.

    This offers some incentive to replay chapters, more so as the game has multiple endings.

    The game also mixes things up by moving from one game genre to another, such as from action to horror. Surprisingly, it's not too disruptive.

    The exception is a chapter that has Jodie playing out a Metal Gear Solid sneaking scenario, which accentuates the limitations of Aiden, and has some finicky camera work.

    Still, the 10- to 12-hour game closes well enough. Playing with a friend using a phone as a controller (there's a free iOS and Android app for this) is also pretty enjoyable and the app controls generally work.

    Beyond is certainly not perfect, but a rough diamond can still be pretty.

    Beyond: Two Souls is available in stores for $69.90