Beyond: Two Souls
We give props to Ellen Page’s incredible performance in the video game Beyond: Two Souls.
Ahhh, Beyond… Where in the world do I begin? How about, “Ellen Page, you great big magnificent gay, we utterly and completely adore you and want to have ALL of your babies, and, PS, happy flippin’ birthday”?! The star of this game (also notably of Juno, Hard Candy, and Inception) very recently and movingly came out on Valentine’s Day at the Human Rights Campaign Time to Thrive conference – bless her mega-romantic, super-cool heart. If you’ve not watched her speech yet, you need to do it now – it will restore your faith in everything.
In Beyond: Two Souls, Ellen is Jodie Holmes, the most powerful female lead in a video game since the likes of the great Laura Croft (Tomb Raider, duh) or Lightning Farron (Final Fantasy XIII). Jodie is a wonderfully real and engaging character who delivers the whole package of humanity, and whom Page truly brings to life on the screen. She’s also a fierce, witty badass, with buckets of tenacity and a surprisingly big heart. Through the childhood trauma of living as “haunted” in a ferociously Christian home, a particularly unpleasant sheltered/endangered-by-her-own-naivety adolescence, and the most screwed-up and manic adult life EVER, Jodie faces an assortment of challenges and ordeals, yet manages to stay awesome throughout, growing all the while like some sort of human weed. She is glorious; I defy you not to love her. Always with her is Aiden (see my rant at the bottom of this article). Aiden is mysterious, possessive, dangerous, and constant companion, whom only Jodie can communicate with. Together they progress through a gripping and deeply moving story spanning fifteen years of Jodie’s messy life, in which the only constant is Aiden’s presence.
I tend to say this about every game I play, because I’ve been gaming since Mario’s pixelated blob was the height of animation, but WOAH guys, them graphics! If nothing else, Beyond is a cinematic treat of epic proportions, largely thanks to the use of advanced motion capture graphics. It is, unquestionably, visually stunning. Flying around as Aiden is particularly delightful. The production team apparently created his movement system with a swimming fish in mind; how cool is that? Thanks to several really excellent actor performances (Willem Dafoe with hints of the Green Goblin again, YES BLEEDIN’ PLEASE), it’s more like playing a movie than anything. In fact, it’s the second-ever video game to have had a clip played at the Tribeca Film Festival. Beyond has also been nominated for a Satellite award, and received two further nominations at the VGX award show, for best female and male voice actors respectively. In addition, the soundtrack is a beautiful, emotionally-charged bit of loveliness that doesn’t distract from the game itself at any point (pet hate right there).
Now, the gameplay. I won’t lie to you, dear reader – I am a rather die-hard fantasy RPGer and Beyond initially made me want to chuck my Playstation out the window. However, I’m so, so glad I stuck with it – the action sequences are actually incredibly user-friendly once you get the hang of them. You make use of the entire controller, and the on-screen commands are subtle, so they do not distract from the experience, but are visible enough to not miss all your cues. The in-game detail is wonderfully intricate and tactile, especially while playing as the charming and loveable child Jodie.
The battle and action commands can initially be a little misleading, but they’re actually very innovative, designed to make use of the gamer’s own instincts. I advise strongly that you pay very firm attention to Jodie’s movement alone – ignore everything else on screen, if you’re stuck. There are a lot of button commands – most of which will help you pave the way for each potential strand of Jodie’s story – and a certain amount of mashing, which can be tricky and may mean repeat replaying, especially if you’re on a quest for trophies. You’ll likely wind up replaying anyway – the story is easily consumed. If you’re anything like me, your first playthrough will last a week, tops – plus your choices will affect smaller plots within the story, so each playthrough offers lots of fresh details and scenarios. Basically, if you want to see everything, you’ll end up replaying the game.
Playing as Aiden is, yes, limited, as you are tethered to Jodie, but it’s very, very fun. As Aiden, you can knock things over with various levels of force, manipulate and move certain items, fly and move through solid matter, as well as strangling or possessing enemies, and occasionally producing a sort of force field to protect Jodie from harm. He can also collect little fuzzy green special orbs which grant you access to bonus material in the main menu, including artwork and making-of clips – well worth a watch. Wicked cool.
My only negative point is the unfortunate streak of white saviourism in the storyline. Jodie is great and we love her, but she does have a habit of sweeping in and saving little black kiddies and Navajo families by thoroughly meddling with their culture. She’s fairly respectful about it, but still, it’s very annoying that we’ve finally got a true-blue perfect heroine, but have to put up with snippets of culture theft in the process. Quantic Dream, you are incredible… but please quit it with the appropriation, a’ite?
Overall, this action-packed, emotional thriller is just about the most innovative and unique game I’ve ever encountered – not to mention terrifyingly creepy and weird on more than one occasion. I’ve truly never experienced anything else like it. It’s a winner – go buy it.
Because I am a helpful and lovely person, here is a long list of the assorted potential triggers in the game – domestic abuse, slut shaming, sexual abuse, child soldiers and war PTSD triggers, pregnancy and labour phobia, suicide, poverty, lots of violence, as well as some nudity and a lot of swearing. It’s not one for the kids!
Finally, permit me my author’s rant – Aiden, an old Celtic warrior name meaning “little fire”, pronounced AID-en, pretty much as spelled, is my uncle’s name, and half my classmates’ names when I was in school – I’m Irish. EYE-den is what happens when Hollywood producer-types whack ‘old Irish names’ into Google and pick with whichever has the coolest meaning, and do their best to pronounce it legitimately. Perhaps the Anglicisation of our own language has affected the pronunciation across the years, but either way – appropriation, people. So please stop with your narking about the occasional in-game mispronunciation, those are actually correct. AID-en. Ahem.
Buy ‘Beyond: Two Souls’ on Amazon