Beyond: Two Souls Review: A Glimpse of the Other Side

System: PS4
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

We are all fascinated, as a species with the concept of life after death. The supernatural and the paranormal are something that comes across as universally interesting to us, mortal beings. David Cage, the writer and director of Beyond: Two Souls, is a man who has tapped into this primal curiosity in a profound way with his latest release. Cage and the team at Quantic Dream have once again brought us something entirely different and unique. With each release, I can see them inching closer to creating the masterpiece that will forever etch them into video game history. Is Beyond: Two Souls that masterpiece, the ultimate union between story and gameplay that Quantic Dream strives to create with each new release? Not quite, but it certainly gives us a glimpse of where gaming could, and should go.

Story: “Struggling to make all the pieces fit.”
Beyond: Two Souls stars Jodie Holmes, played by Ellen Page. Willem Dafoe also highlights the star studded cast as the character of Nathan Dawkins. The game’s story revolves around Jodie, a girl who was born with a mysterious entity attached to her. A spirit of sorts named Aiden. In the game, the story is presented to you in an incredibly fragmented and disjointed manner. This is no accident, the game means to jump between various events across fifteen years of Jodie’s life.

Each chapter of Beyond is new and exciting. In one scene, Jodie is a little girl, being subjected to tests that help her doctor, Nathan, better understand the entity that is attached to her. In the next chapter, Jodie may be in her early twenties, on the run from the law for reasons you have yet to ascertain. This constant change in both scene and tone makes for an exciting level of pacing that keeps you engaged.

Beyond: Two SoulsOn the downside, the fragmented structure of the story doesn’t give you enough time to truly appreciate some of the tertiary characters. Certain people are only on screen for a few minutes before the game jumps forward, or backward in time. I would have liked to see more consistent parameters for the games sense of flow. I think the fragmented idea is good, but the length of the chapters and the sheer lack of any structure makes it feel for a time that the game is simply throwing you around like a pinball to the various events of Jodie’s life.

Luckily, the story does begin to piece itself together as the game crosses the halfway point. You begin to understand correlations between scenes and you start to form a mental timeline of Jodie’s life. Beyond is ambitious in this regard, it covers a massive scope across a variety of locations and deals with events far beyond (pun intended) Jodie’s personal character. For this, I commend David Cage for creating a story that is greater than the sum of it’s parts, with a powerful resolution.

It is also worth noting that Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe deliver incredible and emotional performances that would fit perfect in a big budget hollywood film. Even though some of the lines fall flat and certain elements are awkward, the overall package that Beyond: Two Souls delivers, in terms of story, is a fantastic one.

Gameplay: “The balance between control and consequence.”
Anyone who has played Quantic Dreams previous games such as Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, knows that these games fall into a genre that is best described as “Interactive Cinema.” With Heavy Rain, players were given a lot of choices and consequences to go along with them. As of late, other games have begun utilizing this unique method of storytelling. The Walking Dead from Telltale games is another example of this blend between cinematic storytelling and giving players control of the story.

In Beyond: Two Souls, the controls have been simplified in some places and over complicated in others. There are some truly unique mechanics at work, but they are bogged down by other less successful endeavors. For example, in the game players can switch between controlling Jodie and controlling her attached entity Aiden. For more than one player, two controllers can be used, giving a second player the option to control Aiden. In these moments, you are able to fly through the environments, even passing through certain walls. As Aiden you can move objects, throw items, heal or even kill certain people. In certain situations, Aiden can even hijack a body and give you control of a character for a time.

All of this is scripted of course, and so the freedom of choice here is limited. You can sway Aiden’s actions to cause more mayhem or less, but the outcome is usually very similar. Regardless, it is still exhilarating to literally choke the life out of someone and watch as their life-force flees from their body. Playing as Jodie enables the player to explore environments which seem open, but are really limited to a certain playable area, invisible walls keep you from exploring any places that aren’t relevant to the story. Her movements can feel cumbersome but it is usually not enough to be infuriating. There are certain instances where she runs and others where she can only walk despite your attempts to do otherwise. Interaction with the environment is relegated to pointing at white dots with the right stick and little else. You’ll tap buttons and hold them down, but it’s far more simple than what we saw in Heavy Rain which could be perceived as a good thing. Combat is a blast from the past. Anyone who has heard of or played the Dragon’s Lair series from back in the day will recall that in that game players were given various scenarios that force them to choose between several directions within seconds or face a game over. Beyond isn’t quite as harsh but the concept is the same. During action scenes and combat, time will slow and the screen will become black and white for a few seconds. In these moments players are expected to observe the flow of Jodie’s movements and mimic them on the right analog stick. These are simple inputs, up, down, left, and right, but it’s hard to judge what the game wants at times which makes the combat frustrating. Unlike the previous games from Quantic Dream, Beyond has a lack of consequence or choice that these games are typically known for. That isn’t to say Beyond doesn’t have choices, it just doesn’t have very many that truly affect the story or the outcome of any given scene. In Heavy Rain, main characters could die and the story would continue. In Beyond, I don’t believe it is possible to get a game over or to even die. Failing combat only minorly affects the outcome, wreaking havoc as Aiden is fun, but ultimately has the same effect. The game does have multiple endings, but they are dependent on a handful of last minute choices and not indicative of any previous choices in the game. You can pick dialogue, tone down or unleash your ghostly friend, and stumble through combat, but your story will be very similar to everyone else’s.
Presentation: “Picture Perfect” The graphics in Beyond: Two Souls are absolutely stunning. The character models for Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are spot on and the animation is both lifelike and convincing. This counts for every other character and environment in the game. Beyond runs on an engine Quantic Dream created for the PS4 that they scaled back to work on the PS3 and it shows. This game truly pushes the PS3 to its limits and creates an immensely convincing world and characters. This is an example of how a game can, with the proper technology capture as much emotion through its animation as any movie could. As mentioned before, Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe deliver incredible performances. The supporting cast does a good job as well, with only a few moments of awkward dialogue and mediocre delivery. Overall, these is a vast improvement over Heavy Rain’s consistent drops in acting performance from some of its main cast. The Verdict: “Not a Masterpiece, but a diamond in the rough.” Beyond: Two Souls is not for everyone. Fans of Quantic Dream’s work should play it immediately and those looking for a unique, powerful, if somewhat flawed piece of interactive cinema will find a lot to love here. This isn’t an explosion filled first person shooter and it’s not a complex role-playing game, but it still has a place amongst those titans of the industry. This hybrid of cinema and gaming is a beautiful species that is only just now beginning to grow. With the power of the PlayStation 4 on the horizon, this genre will have the technology and the power to give developers like Quantic Dream the stage for which to showcase a true masterpiece of gaming. What did you think of Quantic Dream’s latest endeavor? Have you played any of their other games like Heavy Rain or Indigo Prophecy? Tell us in the comments!

I give Beyond: Two Souls an 8/10.

Article by - Bradley Ramsey Insert Date: 10/12/2013 Related Articles: