In Beyond Two Souls, Aiden is a supernatural entity, linked to Jodie Holmes ever since her circumstantial birth inside of a government facility. An unseen light, Aiden is systemic to Jodie and her existence. Connected and bonded, the specter can manipulate our existence even as he peers from the misunderstood Infraworld.
His presence is both a bond and burden, a fortified relationship of troubled trust and necessitated anger. Jodie is vigorously tested to determine what scientists see as supernatural powers. Foster homes reject her unseen doppelganger and its often turbulent specialties, confining her to sterile metal walls for most of her childhood years.
Beyond is cautiously out of sync. Beginning with Jodie’s infusion into the CIA where her – or Aiden’s – abilities can harness international secrets, Beyond then dips into a well of early childhood or young adult moments, wherein Jodie is harassed and rejected from society. She searches for an identity of her own outside of awkward encounters, but Aiden is omnipresent. Society beams skepticism.
Instructed and guided by soft spoken Nathan Dawkins, Beyond never revels in Jodie’s bound circumstances. Dawkins’ interest pushes from the psychological and into freak science, bizarre studies of dimensional rift telepathy in a quest to harness or control entities mankind may never grasp. This secondary Infraworld explores and embeds our dead, yet is also an apocalyptic catalyst of demons and wraiths, tortured souls seeking an escape from their pain.
Many of Beyond’s concerns are squished by missing exposition, context holes left to the wayside for out of sequence storytelling or crumpled side characters squelched by archetypal behavior. Jodie’s adoptive father is inhumanely abusive and rejecting, never given framework to expand his erratic fear in an exchange for rushed plot delivery. Was Aiden the impetus for his actions, or was he always selfishly vilifying? Beyond doesn’t seem to know.
David Cage gave us Heavy Rain, also linked to a singular person, that of a father seeking his missing child. Simplicity and harrowing activities were able to better expand its real world potential; how far would a father go to save his son? By comparison, Beyond eliminates elements for the sake of brisk progress, ultimately failing to ground itself in fictional logic. It pulls back on drama and lessens fear. Jamming on the X button to make Jodie flee from danger is only distressing with contextual purpose, something Beyond’s idiosyncratic flow avoids for the sake of pacing.
Arguably, Cage’s methodology of impinged interactivity is a beacon of fictional possibilities. They can expand on traditional AAA videogame narratives, often hooked into necessitated gunplay for hours as story bonds lose their attachment in background surfaces. Beyond falls into the anti-methodology, overwhelmed by the possibility of dripping tears and the videogame technology used to simulate them. Jodie is squandered as little more than a flare of emotion. Her angst is saturated to extremes, and set-ups are in place solely to generate close-ups of crying. Beyond has the length of a novel to tell Jodie’s life into her late 20s, free from the burden of necessitated action, but seems clueless as to how best fill space with anything more than sobbing.
Beyond employs methods to make science refreshingly interested rather than exploitative of their human subject. Still, it caps her existence to mundane routine and socially cripples her into naivety or blind trust. Jodie’s life is not one to celebrate or coordinate around the sights of birthday parties. There are reasons for Jodie to cry, but to ignore balance is to engulf an audience with drama sans a relief valve. That is not character development so much as it is pleading for one-sided sympathy. Jodie is disallowed to see or feel the warmth of human kind… unless it is brutally set on fire.
Aiden thus carries mirrored traits, showing difficulty in understanding and violently reacting (potentially) against anyone who could hurt his human host. Unfortunately, his unexplored reasoning leaves Jodie for the sake thematic tension. Willing to distract or even maim hostile forces in war torn Africa, Aiden ignores Jodie’s difficult forest escape from local police, never so much as cutting a branch to harmlessly slow them down.
Beyond’s finest hours are built from compassion. Dejected by lies and haunted by misleading CIA orders, Jodie is forced into homelessness, finding a connection with other outcasts. It is a rare moment where Aiden and Jodie bond for the purposes of others, not mere outbursts, even if it collapses into resentful negativity like much of Beyond.
Cage’s (and his teams) work proves compellingly cinematic, captured inside of a 2.35:1 aspect ratio with camera composition eager to impress with a wealth of details. Time passes indirectly, subtle background cues such as brutish CRT televisions morphing into thinner LCD frames utilized to enhance Jodie’s maturation. Development can be created without dialog or violence, pushed partially away from the interactive medium for something determinedly visual. Beyond is technologically astounding and artfully composed with minimally guided player input, but it’s a shame when the content in that frame dilutes meaningful substance.
Beyond Two Souls is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, Strong Language, Use of Drugs and Alcohol .