In an extremely busy period for big release games I found myself getting very excited for Quantic Dream’s follow-up to the sublime Heavy Rain. This time casting in A-List acting talents in the form of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe to take you on a supernatural journey. Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie who has another soul attached to her who goes by the name of Aiden, the storyline jumps back and forth in Jodie’s lifetime and how she comes to terms with having this unusual burden. Much like Heavy Rain the game plays out as if it were a movie but you are in control of the character, for example, during a fight scene when Jodie needs to punch or dodge you have to flick the right thumbstick in the direction she needs to move in.
The appeal of having the game being wholly narrative based is that you are in control of how the narrative turns out, you make Jodie’s decisions to determine where she ends up at the end. Heavy Rain had this element of control just right having you constantly gripped and thinking about what to do next, however with Beyond I found there didn’t seem to be enough decisions to choose from, it all seemed far too planned. And overall this is where Beyond falls short, it feels as though you are never in control, even if the fight scenes if you fail to do the right moves the outcome will always end up the same, although there are number of possible endings and various other story strands it’s never made clear and it always feels as though you’re just being guided through the pre-written storyline. The graphics and design of the whole project is phenomenal and the performances from all the actors, especially Page is really impressive, but once the initial buzz of excitement from the first few scenes fades it quickly becomes tedious to give the odd thumbstick flick in an attempt to keep you involved in the game. The narrative itself has moments of absolute brilliance and the paranormal element makes for some really interesting moments but particularly in the middle section the whole thing just droops and becomes a chore to get through. The ending goes some way to redeeming this but again feels far too contrived with far too little freedom to decide Jodie’s fate.
In short, there are moments where Beyond is really, really good but ultimately it feels as though the makers just wanted to make a movie. It seems there is less gameplay than Heavy Rain and really they should have gone in the opposite direction, whilst it’s a very inventive new method of storytelling it feels as though they are not making the most of what is essentially a game!
So today I finished my first play through of Heavy Rain and, I know it’s an old game but, I felt compelled to review it. Also my game review section has been sitting dormant again for quite a while. Released back in 2010 the game offered players a new type of gaming experience, interactive drama. Rather than following the usual formula for video games these days developers Qunatic Dream have created a fully customisable and interactive movie. Playing as the four main characters all involved in different ways with the Origami killer who kidnaps children and locks them in drain pipes. As more rain falls the water rises and eventually the child is drowned, hence the title. Instead of being a fully controllable game, like most, players instead have to select what the character says, the next item the character looks at or tap a button to determine whether their character punches or gets punched. There are allegedly 22 different plot line possibilities based on the decisions you make.
The control method of the game is the first thing that took my by surprise, excluding the fact that the whole game is one big animated film. Most actions a controlled by a specific movement on the right thumb stick. Things are slow to start off with, you wake up as Ethan Mars and have to take him for a piss, shower him and dress him before preparing for his wife and kids come home. There are moments at the beginning of the game that I found got a bit tedious. The first level or so of controlling the character through a few mundane activities is helpful to get used to the control system but after a while these activities become tedious. When the action does start happening though and the plot starts unfolding that’s where the game really takes off. As each character gets closer to figuring out who the killer is and where he’s keeping his hostage, Mars’ son, the amount of dramatic moments increases. Heated interrogations and violent fights break out in nearly every section and every button you press could have a significant effect on how the story turns out. This is where Quantic Dream have managed to really showcase how good interactive drama can be. Rather than having to settle for one ending like you do in a film, you can play the game over and over and every time see something different happen, making this game have probably the greatest replay value of all time.
In the end the question is whether the game is successful in creating a fully submersive motion picture. The answer I think is, yes, it shows us exactly how much potential this genre can have. Heavy Rain is just the beginning of what could a whole new era of storytelling combining with gaming. The writing of the plot lines is fantastic ensuring you are gripped at all times the only thing that could do with tweaking is the control system which at times feels awkward. But Quantic Dream have shown just what possibilities gaming can bring us, eventually could this be how all films are consumed?