CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- The impending arrival of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One later this year brings the promise of new innovations and technological advancements, but anyone who believes the clock has run out on the current generation of consoles need only pick up a DualShock 3 controller and spend a few minutes with the PS3 exclusive, "Beyond: Two Souls."
Developed by Quantic Dream, the same studio responsible for the excellent "Heavy Rain," "Beyond" is a technical marvel the likes of which haven't been seen before. And one that next-gen consoles will be hard-pressed to match.
"Beyond: Two Souls" utilized state-of-the-art performance capture technology to bring its characters to life. Every movement, from the tiniest gesture to the most subtle facial tic, was recreated with stunningly realism. Other games have tried to blur the lines of reality, but none have achieved this level of success. And yet despite this, the unprecedented level of realism is only part of what makes "Beyond" such an engrossing experience.
The performances turned in by the actors who lent their likenesses and voices to the cast are what elevates the game beyond anything I've ever played before.
Academy Award nominee Ellen Page is a tour de force as Jodie Holmes, a young girl linked to a spirit named Aiden. Page brings Jodie to life in every scene, whether it's preparing for a date or battling an unseen evil. The story constantly shifts in a non-linear fashion to key moments in Jodie's life, and Page is brilliant in portraying the girl during each of those different periods.
Sharing top billing with Page is fellow Academy Award nominee Willem Dafoe, who plays Dr. Nathan Dawkins, the scientist who tries to help Jodie understand her relationship with Aiden and control the entity that has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember. Dafoe's Dawkins receives significantly less screen time than Jodie, but nonetheless he manages to steal several scenes with his trademark delivery.
In film, great actors are often only as good as the material with which they have to work and that holds true with "Beyond," too. The story, which blends elements of sci-fi, horror and drama, revolves around Jodie and Aiden and their unique relationship. Yes, the script occasionally delves into cliches and the narrative isn't as grounded as "Heavy Rain," but the story told here is every bit as emotionally charged as its predecessor.
As with most Quantic Dream productions, gameplay inevitably takes a backseat to the overall experience and "Two Souls" is no exception. Players control Jodie's movement with the left analog stick and use the right stick to interact with her surroundings in intuitive ways. For example, flicking the right stick down when next to a chair will cause Jodie to sit. Flick it in the direction of a door handle and she will open the door. Gone are the Quick Time Events that have littered past Quantic Dream games, replaced here by timely movements with the right stick meant to mimic Jodie's on-screen actions. While I'm no fan of QTEs, I'd almost prefer them to the alternative featured in "Beyond" as it can often be difficult to interpret Jodie's movements in order to follow along. Thankfully these action sequences are sparse and you're not really penalized for failing to keep up.