GOT GAME? In 'Beyond: Two Souls,' the spirit is weak
David Cage doesn’t care if you have fun.
The lead designer of “Heavy Rain” and “Indigo Prophecy” has loftier goals for his video games. He wants them to make you feel something, and not just the adrenaline rush you might get from blasting hordes of alien invaders. He wants to make you sad, or nervous, or compassionate, or desperate. It’s all about the emotional response.
By that yardstick, Cage’s “Beyond: Two Souls” (Sony, for the PlayStation 3, $59.99) is a success. Granted, the emotion it evokes is often frustration — with both Cage and his stubborn, self-pitying protagonist.
Her name is Jodie Holmes, and she’s the proverbial Girl With Something Extra — namely, a disembodied entity named Aiden whose existence is somehow tethered to Jodie’s. No one can see Aiden, but he can hover around a room, flicking switches, knocking over vases and pulling off other cheap parlor tricks.
Get Aiden angry, though, and he’ll choke out any punks who give our heroine a hard time. And occasionally he can even possess another human and commit the kind of acts that Jodie herself can’t stomach.
We first meet Jodie as a desperate 20-something on the run from government forces. “Beyond” then skips around her entire life story, all the way back to her birth. We see her as a confused child and as a surly teen. We see her undergoing boot camp as a CIA recruit. We see her lost and homeless, trying to work up the nerve to commit suicide.
All these vignettes eventually snap together to form a portrait of a woman tormented by her mysterious connection to the “Infraworld.” Ultimately, though, Jodie’s single-minded angst makes her tiresome. We never get to see her enjoy her bizarre powers or show any curiosity about Aiden’s world; instead, she’s a passive guinea pig manipulated by men with their own devious agendas.
This is no slight against Ellen Page, a good actress who provides Jodie’s image, via motion-capture technology and voice. Likewise, Willem Dafoe and Kadeem Hardison deliver sympathetic performances as the lab geeks who monitor Jodie’s maturation. But they’re all let down by Cage’s script — in Page’s case by monotony and in Dafoe’s case by a preposterous late-game character U-turn.
The story isn’t helped by its non-chronological presentation. I get what Cage is trying to achieve with this approach, mixing the more action-heavy sequences from Jodie’s adulthood with more emotional moments from her youth. But I just didn’t find Jodie’s childhood traumas plausible or compelling and would have preferred a more conventional narrative that showed the gradual development of her talents.
I’m a fan of David Cage, and I admire his storytelling ambitions. But as the video-game audience matures, we’re seeing more sophisticated narratives all over, from low-budget indies like “Gone Home” to best-selling blockbusters like “The Last of Us.” “Beyond: Two Souls” is hackneyed in comparison, a promising tale that gets bogged down in thriller clich￩s.
Two stars out of four