Beyond: Two Souls Review
Given the way that David Cage has talked about Beyond: Two Souls (and videogames in general) you could be forgiven for thinking that Beyond: Two Souls is a shining example of the potential of interactive storytelling, an intellectual tour de force that eschews the conventions of other big budget videogames to present us with a considered, emotionally intelligent and thought provoking piece of interactive fiction to rival the best that arthouse cinema has to offer.
Beyond: Two Souls is most definitely not that.
What Beyond: Two Souls actually is, is a badly written and hokey supernatural genre fiction that, despite its obvious flaws, is often satisfying and engaging.
Beyond: Two Souls is a very uneven game, with a latter half that sees an increasingly outlandish narrative spiral out of control, losing what it is that initially makes Beyond: Two Souls appealing in the process.
Approached with the right spirit, Beyond: Two Souls is a game that certainly has something to offer. It’s just a shame that the games’ positive aspects are gradually pushed to the wayside as Beyond: Two Souls stutters to a finish.
Beyond: Two Souls – The Story
Given that Beyond: Two Souls is a story heavy game, it would seem to stand to reason that the game’s success or failure is dependent on the quality of its writing.
Yes and no.
Despite Beyond: Two Souls’ story being populated with stock characters, riddled with clichés, peppered with bad dialogue, interspersed with nonsensical moments, punctuated with borderline racist tropes and littered with predictable plot points, Beyond: Two Souls’ first half still manages to hook the player in.
Part of that is because Beyond: Two Souls feels like a guilty pleasure, a piece of work that can be loved in spite of, even because of the fact that, in many ways, it is quite plainly ridiculous.
However, it is also down, in no small part, to Beyond: Two Souls protagonist, Jodie.
Beyond: Two Souls tells Jodie’s story by dropping the player into formative moments of her life over the course of 15 years. These events, experienced in a non-chronological order, work well as vignettes that allow the player to experience a variety of contrasting scenarios while simultaneously fleshing out Jodie’s character.
As you see how Jodie’s unique abilities, afforded through her connection with a spectral entity known as Aiden, effect the way she is viewed and treated by those around her, clashing with her own sense of volition, the player develops a strong relationship with a likeable character who is well acted by Beyond: Two Souls’ headline star, Ellen Page.
Beyond: Two Souls – Controlling Jodie and Aiden
Beyond: Two Souls aims to make controlling Jodie as intuitive as possible, asking players to perform flicks of the right stick to interact with objects in the game’s environment and to match Jodie’s movements in QTE based action sequences which periodically require they player to mash one button or another to mimic the exertion Jodie is experiencing on screen.
Some will be incredulous about the lack of interactivity on offer, but aside from some minor problems dealing with Jodie’s tank-like movement, Beyond: Two Souls’ control scheme works well and the desire to do things a little differently is refreshing.
Yes, Beyond: Two Souls’ gameplay often prioritises spectacle over substance, but this doesn’t mean that successfully completing one of the games’ many QTE based action sequences isn’t satisfying.
Things are a little different when switching to Jodie’s spectral companion, Aiden. Aiden is able to use his otherworldly powers to interact with the environment and other characters, usually as a means to help Jodie progress past whichever obstacle she’s being confronted with.
Solving Beyond: Two Souls simple puzzles with Aiden can generally be achieved through a process of elimination. But, despite the puzzles’ simplicity, there’s a tactile pleasure to interacting with the world using Aiden’s unique abilities and Quantic Dream are smart in playing with the temptation to make use of Aiden’s powers at every opportunity.
The scenarios in which Beyond: Two Souls places Jodie and Aiden are often far more action packed than those we’ve seen in previous Quantic Dream games, but the developers haven’t lost their oddly enticing willingness to revel in the mundane.
There’s something compelling about Quantic Dreams tendency to intersperse high tension moments, framed by explosions and gunfire, with the act of, for example, watering some sheep.
It’s something that sets Beyond: Two Souls apart from many other big budget games and, though the degree to which Beyond: Two Souls presents the player with these more muted moments tailors off as the game progresses, it helps the player to identify with Jodie.
Beyond: Two Souls – Pulling a Fahrenheit
Indeed, it is when Beyond: Two Souls focuses on that character that the game is at its best. In the early running, Beyond: Two Souls always feels like it is about Jodie.
It is about how she struggles to fit in, how she is treated by other people, and it starts to become a game about how she tries to escape from a life where she is enthralled to the will of others in order to discover the world herself and become her own person.
If only things had continued in that vein. Unfortunately, with Beyond: Two Souls, David Cage pulls a Fahrenheit.
Just as with the infamous latter half of Quantic Dream’s first game, Fahrenheit, the stakes are raised to epic proportions as Beyond: Two Souls ups the scale, presumably in an attempt to give Jodie’s character something Important to do.
Making the story about something bigger than Jodie feels like a miscalculation given that it is Jodie’s character and her personal story that makes the game engaging in the first place.
Losing that focus is regrettable to say the least and it would have been interesting to see if Cage could have genuinely pulled off something a little different by taking Beyond: Two Souls’ story to a quieter place rather than upping the ante in a move that apes the very conventions Cage says he is trying to subvert.
Beyond: Two Souls’ bombastic latter stages are presumably meant to serve as a tense, rousing finale that enhances the player’s connection to Jodie by placing her in increasingly perilous situations.
Instead, they serve to ensure that Beyond: Two Souls becomes increasingly tedious while bringing to the foreground all those problems that seemed forgivable when Beyond: Two Souls retained its focus on Jodie.
Beyond: Two Souls Review
Despite the tired tropes and the cheesy lines, Beyond: Two Souls is unique enough and, unintentionally, silly enough to be enjoyable and engaging.
In Jodie, Quantic Dream has created a sympathetic and likable character who is able to carry an incredibly flawed game for far longer than should be possible.
It’s unfortunate that it all becomes a little too much towards the end as Jodie is crushed under the weight of an unwieldy story that smothers everything that makes the game worthwhile in its early stages.
It’s such a shame to see Quantic Dream make the same mistakes they’ve made in the past, because it feels like Beyond: Two Souls could be shaping up to become by far the best thing the developers have done until that hope is destroyed by the games’ poor second half.
Version Tested: PS3