- Publisher: Sony
- Developer: Quantic Dream
- ESRB Rating: M (Mature)
- Genre: Supernatural Drama
- Pros: Gorgeous Graphics, Great Performances, Ambitious Storytelling
- Cons: Awful Mechanics, Episodic Narrative
Jodie (Page) is never alone. She has a soul named Aiden who is always attached to her. The narrative of “Beyond” jumps back and forth (and, when it’s over, you can play through the chapters chronologically, which will add a different weight to the story) over the course of Jodie’s mostly tragic tale. As much as Aiden can protect her, he’s not within her control. He ruins chances for love, destroys the environment when Jodie is angry, and even makes his partner into a quality candidate for the CIA. He also makes her a mass murderer, sending her on the run to the degree that she has to live on the streets or hide out at a Native American farm in the middle of nowhere. As you can imagine, Jodie’s narrative is episodic, tracking key moments of her life in wildly different locales and at different ages. But Aiden is always there.
The controls of “Beyond” are similar to “Heavy Rain” in that you’ll often be merely flicking a control stick to progress the action forward. In fact, the game requires so little participation that it can be played entirely via an app that you download to your smart phone, a structure that the developers use for those curious about the story but unfamiliar with games. Feel more comfortable with a phone than a PS3 controller? You can still experience the game on a narrative level.
Those of you with a controller will sometimes feel like you’re not doing much in the world of “Beyond” either. Where I felt the mundane nature of some of the controls in “Heavy Rain” added to the storytelling, the simplicity of the mechanics here don’t fit as well with the narrative. In “Rain,” you were an average guy. In “Beyond,” there’s nothing average about you. And the non-chronological structure forces some of the simple mechanics to come back late in the game, where they stand out even more as ways to merely push a cut scene forward. After you’ve experienced some of the intense action of “Beyond,” chopping vegetable to make Asian Beef just feels a bit too much like wasting time. And it adds to the incredibly episodic structure in that the game is always peaking in terms of action and then subsiding to mundane behavior. Too much of “Beyond” feels like you’re following simple instructions. Go get wood. Go get gas. And so on.
About that action. Much of the combat in “Beyond” comes down to the action moving into slow-motion as you’re forced to move the control stick in what you discern is the natural direction. For example, Jodie gets into a fight, she swings her arm back, you follow the swing in the direction of her arm to connect. The problem is that the controls are inconsistent. Is that straight, right, or at an angle? Often the camera swirls just before one of these events, adding to a sense of controller chaos. And when you’re not controlling Jodie, you (or a friend) must control Aiden, an entity who can cause chaos or even possess other people and force them into sometimes-deadly action.
As much as I disliked a lot of the action in “Beyond,” it’s what most other developers ignore that this game gets right and rescues it from its clunky controls. Elements like mood, character, setting – they’re all so well-defined here, never more so than in a chapter in which Jodie ends up homeless that simply must be played. You’ve done a lot of things with your PS3 but you have never begged for change for something to eat. It’s captivating, especially through a great performance by Page. (And yet not long after is the Native American “Jump the Shark” episode in which I nearly gave up on the tedium of the game.)