Friday 9 December 2016

Beyond Two Souls review: Once more, with feeling

Beyond Two Souls (PS4); rating: 8/10; age: 18+

Published 12/01/2016 | 10:45

Beyond Two Souls: Compelling performance by Ellen Page
Beyond Two Souls: Compelling performance by Ellen Page

SONY persists with its programme of PS3 remasters instead of commissioning brand-new titles to fill its release schedule.

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Unquestionably, the PlayStation brand hasn’t picked any old tat to buff up and re-release. Quality titles such as The Last of Us and Uncharted clearly stand up to scrutiny years after their debut. But it’s their substitution for genuinely fresh ideas that grates.

The big-budget production values of 2013’s Beyond Two Souls certainly made for an interesting paranormal tale. Hingeing on committed performances from Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, it spins a story of troubled child Jodie inextricably linked to a guardian poltergeist.

Page in particular invests her starring turn with real emotion, navigating a 15-year storyline in which Jodie grows from an introverted pre-teen to a desperate but determined twenty-something. Dafoe is a secret-service agent assigned to protect her and exploit her powers for the government’s benefit. His taciturn delivery functions primarily as exposition to track her progress from curious experiment to dangerous fugitive.

Beyond Two Souls: Willem Dafoe also stars
Beyond Two Souls: Willem Dafoe also stars

A third character plays an equally important role, the lethal, mischievous spirit guardian known as Aiden. But like your control of Jodie, Aiden’s use is strictly kept on a leash - to protect or attack in service of the plot.

Logic and tone frequently take a back seat as Jodie’s journey switches between humbling moments of real sensitivity to abrupt outbreaks of ultra-violence.

Like his last game, Heavy Rain, auteur director David Cage explores his trademark awkward mix of anxious social situations, explosive action and psychological drama but it doesn’t always hang together cohesively.

This new version enables you to play the story chronologically instead of the original’s disjointed time-hopping cinematic presentation. It helps smooth the jarring tonal shifts that threaten to undermine Cage’s good intentions.

The PS4 edition also bundles some action-oriented downloadable sequences and its spruced-up visuals reinforce Ellen Page’s compelling acting.

Yet if you’ve played the storyline through first time round, there’s little point reliving Jodie and Aiden’s drama.

Looking at Beyond with fresh eyes, it comes off a little too much an interactive movie in the beginning and a faintly ludicrous action-adventure by the end. But it does make me long for the day Cage finally nails his ambitious marriage of narrative and interactivity. His next project, named Detroit, has no release date but explores an android’s quest to feel human.

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