Ellen Page stars in Beyond: Two Souls, a kind of interactive adventure framed in a flawed but sometimes convincing cinematic fashion. Page voices and has been motion captured for the role of Jodie Holmes, a troubled young girl who shares her mind with an out-of-body object-bothering spirit called Aiden, in a tale that jumps backwards and forwards between key moments in her early life that the player interacts with and can even change.
If that sounds a bit like the premise of a bad Syfy movie – and not the Sharknado kind, but instead a Nineties one that nobody, even the people that commissioned it, remembers – then that’s because there is an inherent conceptual daftness about the plot of Beyond that you never quite shake off.
Jodie ends up joining the army, becoming part of a homeless community and going on the run as a fugitive; the lack of subtlety to the premise filters down to all these exaggerated scenarios and they’re not exactly strung together with any elegance. Yet Beyond‘s story is really just movie-like on a superficial level, and is actually a means to an end to put the player in interesting circumstances where they can understand how misunderstood Jodie is by the people in her life. It’s all a bit sad, really.
The moment-to-moment existence of Jodie is where the game’s emotional beats are more organically woven into the narrative, then. These can be brilliantly effective, elevated by Ellen Page’s performance, who is clearly passionate about the material (Willem Dafoe, who co-stars, is less convincing). These instances can be as simple as having a snowball fight with kids in the street, playing the guitar and busking for change, or choosing how she responds when people ask about her double life with a naughty ghost.
Beyond is impressive in the way accumulates these small, realistic flashes of characterisation that shape who Jodie is. It’s rare to see a game make time for the quiet moments, and though they’re not all winners and are subject to hammy scripting, the way they inform Page’s performance means that the effort was well worth it.
So unfortunately, it’s the supernatural side of Jodie’s existence that means Beyond doesn’t quite realise its full potential. Most of the game-y bits are left to the ghostly spirit of Aiden – you can float around the world, attacking and healing people, as well as opening doors and moving objects in a way that shits up the civilians surrounding Jodie. It’s just not a good thematic match for the level of drama that director David Cage is going for and is more than a tad silly, though a REC-like part of the story in a basement of a building finds a smart way to use this spiritual realm idea to garner a few good scares.
There’s a bit too much of Beyond, as well, and a couple of instances could either have been shortened or cut out entirely to give the Jodie’s story a bit more energy. Yet, while Ellen Page’s casting may seem like a marketing-friendly novelty for a videogame, the effort of that performance, the way it’s employed and the empathy you have for Jodie as a result is a quiet triumph on the part of Quantic Dream’s designers. In other words, the interactivity means something – the creators have admirably fused gameplay and storytelling together.
Beyond shouldn’t be a movie or a TV show – it should be a game, since the framework of the way the story is delivered lets you leave a little bit of yourself in the way it progresses, with multiple endings to ratify your choices. This means Beyond ends up being quite tricky to rate. Objectively, there are a lot of problems with the basic premise and execution of the overall idea, yet there’s a little slice of wonder to the smaller story moments that no other game will channel so effectively. A confused and flawed but ambitious effort.