- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 12, 2013

Gamers looking for the latest in interactive cinema will find a controller-gripping, supernatural thriller in Beyond: Two Souls (Sony Computer Entertainment America and Quantic Dream, rated Mature, $59.99).

Exclusive to the PlayStation 3, the latest creation from Quantic Dream (known for the 2010 gritty Heavy Rain) takes a much more emotional and paranormal rather than noirish approach to the story as a player controls the mysterious CIA Agent Jodie Holmes (played by Oscar nominee Ellen Page) and her spiritual companion Aiden.

Both go on a worldwide quest against evil unleashed from the Infraworld (a bridge between the living and afterlife) while Jodie tries to understand the bond to her ghostly friend.

Suffice to report, for those willing to appreciate a 10-hour-long movie, have I got a video game for you.

Taking place over a 15-year period in Jodie’s life (from age 8 to 23), the design strips away much of the standard fare used in a typical third-person adventure game and replaces it with numerous contextual actions (pressing button sequences), interacting with highlighted hotspots in an environment, fleeting conversations with individuals and the most basic of movements.

A player, rather more director, can maneuver Jodie and allow her to interact by flicking at white orbs in a location using the controller’s analog stick. That includes combat as her world slows down and a player simply moves the stick toward the direction of an enemy’s attacks.

Her creepy companion Aiden is much more aggressive. When called upon, the screen turns hazy around the edges and a sparkling blue globule emanates from Ellen tethered to her by an energy stream.

Now, the player moves from a third- to first-person perspective and can rapidly fly around, even through walls. Blue orbs are now interaction points, and moving analog sticks in tandem with triggers  can deliver a desired result.

Aiden’s powers allow it to take over and possess individuals, choke and blast enemies, shield Jodie from bullets, heal her and even retrieve a recent memory of a traumatic event (a very slick maneuver).

So what exactly does Aiden’s help, or interference, mean in terms of controlling the life of Jodie and her daily minutia that includes hugging a stuffed animal, throwing a snowball, restlessly turning in a bed, taking a shower, playing a guitar and cooking a meal, to name a few moments?

As an example, early on in the story, a teen Jodie stops by a birthday party. A player must answer questions from a young suitor and decide if he can have a quick kiss and fondle. She must choose which type of music to play on a boom box. And when her peers turn on her and lock her under a stairwell, Jodie gets her “Carrie” moment.

Aiden can cause mayhem that any poltergeist would be proud potentially resulting in the spirit burning down her new worst friend’s house.

Of course, this set of maneuvers get more complicated as the story continues while evil entities invade, and choices can lead to a possible two dozen resolutions to the drama.

The outstanding motion capture of Miss Page and her surrogate father and research scientist Nathan Dawkins (played beautifully by Willem Dafoe) never stops amazing. Detail down to Miss Page’s watery eye orbs, pouty, chapped lips and freckles are just jaw-dropping.

Additionally, both actors deliver noteworthy performances amidst a fragmented plot that jumps across time periods of Jodie’s life.

Unfortunately, the game bogs down with extended-cut scenes, which work well for pacing its occasional cinematic payoffs but not for any gaming purist.

In fact, expect “Call of Duty”-style game fanatics to be nauseated by the decision-making maelstroms and lack of traditional mechanics as they slog through bursts of boredom, terror and excitement.

However, the methodical plot development choices will fascinate the more casual gaming human entranced by the gorgeous visual design and familiar with Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead series.

Despite much more story than action, it’s hard not to appreciate the motion-captured, pixilated performance art of Beyond: Two Souls that continues to fuel an evolution that attempts to blur the line between film and game.

Note: Don’t like using a traditional game controller? I’ve got an app for that. A player can install Beyond Touch on his favorite Android or iOS device (such as an iPad) and communicate with his PS3 via a Wi-Fi network to play the game using a device’s touch screen. This clever gimmick works well for Jodie’s movements but fell flat for me when trying to handle Aiden, especially during the more intense, combative situations.

Parental advice: The ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board) — after watching Aiden strangle a SWAT team member, posses a pilot to crash his helicopter and control a soldier to shoot his teammates to death — decided to label this game in “M” and that stands for mature. Gamers only 17 years and older need be a part of Beyond: Two Souls. Although, I found the game’s violence level much less than an average late-night television show such as “Sleepy Hollow,” “American Horror Story” and  “Grimm,” it’s still an “R”-rated movie, and parents should decide if their 15-year-old should buy a ticket.

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