Format: PS3 Exclusive

First thing's first: if you didn't like Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream's divisive 2010 foray into cinematic QTE gaming, then you needn't read any more of this review. You aren't going to like Beyond: Two Souls. Now, let's get down to the review.

Reviewing Beyond poses a bit of a problem. David Cage has once again created a game with a severe identity crisis, in that, from a gaming point of view, the controls can be a bit of a pig, and from a cinematic point of view the plot and supporting characters can be a bit two dimensional. However, together they do seem to work quite well. What does stand out are the performances from Ellen Page and Willem Defoe, two Academy Award nominees who give it their all in Cage's video gaming production. It's impossible not to be transfixed by Defoe every time he appears on screen as character Dr Nathan Hawkins, not least of which because of the novelty of seeing him rendered as Video Game character, and Ellen Page's performance as Jodie Holmes, a troubled girl with a terrifying gift is both believable and heartfelt. And then there's Aiden, who in this game will be played by you, the player.

 photo firestarter_zps13fa66ec.jpgThe plot is a mish-mash of tropes, parts of which could have been lifted from 70s/80s sci-fi, particularly Stephen King's Firestarter and David Cronenberg's Scanners. There's also some typical Middle Eastern war movie action, Twin Peaks and Native American mysticism thrown in for good measure. It could be criticised for not really settling on a specific genre, but then I think the multi-faceted nature of the game is intentional, and all part of Cage's grand plan, for better or worse.

 photo jodie-science_zpsc45e3ba6.jpgThe main protagonist, Jodie, possesses a rare gift; she's able to communicate and, to an extent, manipulate an invisible entity named Aiden. Her parents, understandably freaked out by her somewhat vindictive invisible friend, hand her over to Nathan Dawkins at his specialist institute for the study of the paranormal. She's cut off completely from the outside world and, as she grows up, becomes more and more aware that the life she leads is nowhere near the typical experience of the average teenager. She goes on to join the CIA as a specialist field agent, and that's pretty much all I can tell you without ruining the experience.

As the player, you get to control both Jodie and her ghostly counterpart, Aiden, however it's the latter that you can shape into a character of your choosing. As Jodie, you do get to choose certain responses or actions using David Cage's ingenious or infuriating (depending on your opinion of him) penchant for QTE events, but there are certain things she will do regardless of your input. With Aiden, the player has a clean slate. He has no voice, so he can only be judged on his actions, all of which are in your control. I'm somewhat ashamed to say that during my time as Aiden I was the epitome of an angry spirit. Kane from Poltergeist II has nothing on me. I killed people. I stacked chairs in amusing patterns. When I didn't get my way, shit got thrown around the room. However, I could have done nothing. There are a number of scenes when the player can take control of Aiden and merely spectate. But the temptation to cause a ruckus was far too great for me. I'm certainly not the first person to suggest it (thank you Twitter for ruining my media blackout on the game), but Aiden is a representation of gamers as a whole. The "Other Side" in the game's plot, could easily be considered our reality. Aiden is the astral projection of US, sitting on the other side of the screen, comfortable, and immune to the real life consequences of our actions. Of course, that all goes out the window if you decide to play the game in two player mode, but sometimes it's nice to wax philosophical.

 photo control-scheme_zps1e320c83.jpgI can't really fault Beyond as an experience. The narrative is fractured chronologically, and the lack of a linear plot creates an interesting dynamic where you feel compelled to play on just to find out exactly what happened to bring on the elements of the story you've just unfolded, a subversion of a typical game narrative. I can however find fault with the controls, which at times can be fiddly, but are still a lot less counterintuitive than David Cage's previous output. Regardless of the improvement, there are still parts of the game where the control scheme feels like it was tacked on as a Quantic Dream branding exercise as opposed to making the game the best that it could be. There are action set-pieces that probably would have been best served using a more traditional control scheme, and navigating certain levels could have, as a result, been much more fluid and less immersion-breaking. When you're tripping over your fingers to jump between cover and take down an enemy, it's kind of hard to care what's happening on the screen.

 photo montage_zps2d3d7e31.jpgWhile the graphics are stunning, there are a couple of glitches that may well have been fixed by the time of this review's publication: namely, the game's annoying habit of switching off the inverted Y axis when you load up a saved game (seriously - how the hell did they miss this during testing?), our old familiar friend texture pop-up, and the game's occasional, but by no means frequent, decision to completely freeze the console, resulting in three hard resets during my playthrough. Besides those niggles, nothing particularly gamebreaking.

 photo jodie-war_zps4b0e8cf3.jpgDavid Cage has tried his very best to create something that makes us question the very nature of gaming, by creating characters whose experience throughout the game can be shaped by our, the player's, actions as Aiden. You can pretty much turn Jodie's life into a living hell if you so choose. I also think the reason the game touches upon so many different gaming genre's is so it can relate to the widest demographic, so whether you're a point and click junky, a COD warrior or a Silent Hill abstract mystery lover, there's something in the game that you'll probably feel a connection with. However, despite the game's obvious ambition it's still limited by the medium and good old gamer curiosity. While Cage has tried to bring the ultimate cinematic experience to gaming, nothing breaks immersion more than feeling the need to walk into every room, explore every nook and cranny just to make sure you haven't missed some vital piece of information. What intensifies the problem is that once you've explored the level/room as Jodie, you can't help but switch to Aiden's point of view and repeat the process all over again, as both characters interact with scenery in different ways. There's also the problem of consequence: it never really feels like any of your mistakes matter in the game. If you mess up some moves in a fight sequence, the outcome still appears to be relatively positive for Jodie or Aiden. During my entire playthrough, I don't think I saw a game over screen once. If the plot was in any way influenced by my actions, or lack thereof, then Quantic Dream have done an amazing job of disguising it. They claim no two playthroughs can be the same, but I have to say I find that an extremely bold claim to make. I'm tempted to give the game another run through just so I can call shenanigans.

I'd recommend everyone give this game a shot, but as long as they leave their expectations at the door and read as little as possible about it. Going in cold will result in a much better experience and, for God's sake, don't resort to walkthroughs. Apparently there are no correct answers, no ideal outcomes. The best approach is to put as much of yourselves into the game as possible, and you'll probably get a satisfying conclusion. Which, by that logic, means that at heart I'm a vindictive, needy and possibly psychotic poltergeist who takes pleasure in the fear-tears of the living.