Beyond: Two Souls and blurring the line between cinema and gaming

This is a guest post by Emma Baker – a video game enthusiast, studying English at Bournemouth University. You can follow Emma online through Twitter, or via her Tumblr blog.

Beyond: Two Souls has been marketed like a blockbuster movie
Beyond: Two Souls has been marketed like a blockbuster movie

David Cage, the writer and director of Beyond: Two Souls has admitted that he wants to try to create a new form of entertainment by merging film with gaming. But how successfully does he pull this idea off?

It’s clear right from the initial title screen that Beyond: Two Souls is one of the most stunning games that has been produced to date. The visuals are compelling, providing the player with vast, extensively detailed landscapes. The lighting and textures are on point throughout the game, regardless of where the player moves. Every scrap of detail has been fine-tuned to ensure everything is rendered to a standard that makes it feel like you’re looking through a squeaky clean window.

In a sequence when young Jodie has been attacked by some of the entities in her room, the power of Quantic Dream’s HDR lighting is truly showcased, casting intricate shadows of tree branches all over her room, angling flawlessly at the right points, and flowing in time with the outside.

Beyond: Two Souls stars two instantly recognisable Hollywood actors: Ellen Page and Willem Defoe. Ground-breaking motion-capture allows us to see every detail that the actors put into their characters. This cast coupled with the game being presented in entirely super-widescreen film format tells us right off the bat that this is going to be more of an interactive movie than a video game. However, ‘interactive’ may be going a step too far.

The story is compelling, and the striking performance from Page grips us even more. But unless you’re experiencing the particularly emotionally stimulating scenes, or the action-packed fight scenes, Beyond: Two Souls seems kind of lacklustre.

The action sequences are stunning, and undoubtedly more exciting than some of the more monotonous tasks the player is required to carry out. But still, the fights are always in slow motion, and the player simply moves the left analog stick in the direction of Jodie’s body, so even when the exciting stuff is happening, you never really feel like you’re in control.

Beyond: Two Souls is marketed as interactive, as though every decision you make as Jodie counts, but it never really feels like you’re doing anything. Jodie is controlled how you would expect from a conventional game, but a lot of the time it’s hard to tell when you’re controlling her and when Cage has the wheel. This isn’t just because of the perpetual thick black bars on the screen, but because you’re rarely controlling Jodie for more than a minute at a time, unless you’re awkwardly tilting the analog sticks and button bashing the D pad to push over a jar of cookies.

This smooth blending of gameplay and pretty cut-scenes is immersive, but can get annoying if you’re having a good time strangling people and then the power get taken away.

With that said, the control scheme really does work in the context of Beyond: Two Souls. Switching to Jodie’s ‘entity’ Aiden is easy enough, and the controls for Aiden give a sense of interactivity: holding down L1 and wiggling the L and R sticks in various directions will allow you to do most things from flipping tables. to choking someone to death, to possessing someone’s body and murdering all their friends.

Even if it’s not as exciting as some players may want, we can’t deny the eminent playability of Beyond: Two Souls.

Cage brings more cinematic elements to the game using innovative camera work. The player has varying degrees of control over the camera, but on the whole it’s mostly restricted. It really is directed like a movie, with the camera cutting from wide shots of the character, right back to tracking behind them like you’d expect of a typical game camera angle. The first time Jodie appears stranded in the middle of the desert, a lot of the sequence is shot from the widest angle that you could imagine, but you’re still required to control Jodie from that distance.

The only thing that really resembles a traditional video game camera is when the screen slowly ebbs towards a point of interest, whether it be somewhere the player is required to go, something that can evoke some kind of reaction from Jodie or the player.

Ellen Page did extensive motion capture for her role in Beyond: Two Souls
Ellen Page did extensive motion capture for her role in Beyond: Two Souls

Each scene of Beyond: Two Souls is fairly short, eliminating the levels that you’d expect to play in a conventional video game. The narrative jumps around constantly over the span of 14 years, which definitely holds interest: you can’t really predict what will happen next. It’s interesting, and rarely disorienting.

The player comes to know the different Jodies that we meet in the game, making it easier to piece together chunks of narrative as you play – and if you’re having trouble, the loading scene is essentially a big shiny timeline with the titles of the chapters you’ve already played on it, so it jogs your memory if nothing else.

However, the attempt at bringing an exhaustive, dazzling cinematic experience onto console has its flaws. What may be endearing in a movie (like watching Ellen Page cook for half a minute), is monotonous in a game. Once the player has experienced fast-paced action sequences, picking potatoes and corn off a plate for two or three minutes seems downright unbearable.

Even then, the almost total lack of control in the action sequences can result in them being quite repetitive after a while.

Beyond: Two Souls feels too much like a movie, but if more gaming elements were added in, it’d feel like just a video game, dissolving this new form of entertainment that directly merges the two media.

With that said, this game is definitely a start, and if the aged PS3 is capable of powering a game like this, we can only expect that the merging of cinema and games will be more successful with the new generation of technology.

Do you agree with Emma’s analysis? Get down to the comments section and make yourself heard!

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