[There are spoilers in the last two paragraphs for “Beyond: Two Souls.”]
My husband and I just finished another game last weekend. “Beyond: Two Souls” is the new release by Quantum Dream, a French game studio headed by David Cage. “B:TS” is a sort of game-movie hybrid. It stars Ellen Page as Jodie, a girl who has been linked since birth to an invisible, intangible entity named Aiden who has various powers, like talking to the dead, and breaking shit. Her story is told non-linearly, from her childhood raised by scientists in a government facility, to her time in the CIA, to a life on the run wanted for treason. The game has a two-player co-op mode, which worked very well for us. I played as Jodie, walking around, choosing conversation options, and sometimes fighting. My husband took over Aiden, flying around and messing with things psychokinetically. The controls are very simple, even more streamlined than Quantum Dream’s previous project “Heavy Rain.” The highest-adrenaline sections come when Jodie is in combat – you direct her actions by flicking the joystick in the direction of her momentum, and sometimes by furiously shaking the controller up and down. It is a fairly ambitious game, meant to be more cinematic and “adult” than other big-budget mainstream games out there, with the intention of showing that gaming can be a serious art form worthy of critical consideration outside the gamer community. This has led to some blowback and criticism from gamers.
In the spirit of building things up rather than tearing them down, I’d like to talk about what I really liked about “B:TS.” In short, the main character, Jodie, is, to the best of my knowledge, unique in mainstream gaming. While female leads are becoming more prevalent, there is almost always a sense of distance between the character and the audience. Female characters, particularly in action-y games, tend to be defined as more-or-less sexy, kickass ciphers. Whatever is happening internally is not generally explored very closely. But while Jodie certainly can whoop some ass when she needs to, far more time is spent detailing her interior life, her past, and her unique situation in the world. This is probably the only game I’ve ever played that holds the camera on multiple extended close up shots of a character’s face, and the animation is sufficiently subtle to capture the nuance of expression necessary to allow access to her thoughts. Continue reading