Beyond: Two Souls is the latest installment from Heavy Rain director David Cage. Beyond takes gaming and movies, and through some amalgamation ends up with an interactive, storytelling adventure that attempts to replace the conventional thoughts about death. With lead roles being owned by Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, the promise of Beyond: Two Souls escaping the cold clutches of the critics seems plausible, but will the renowned actors be able to save this game alone?
[Be warned: While I attempt to avoid any major spoilers, there are minor spoilers ahead!]
It is refreshing to see a game that is different once in a while, and trust me when I say that Beyond: Two Souls is very, very different. You play as Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page), a normal girl by any means, with the one exception, that she has an “entity” named Aiden attached to her. No one quite knows what this entity is, why it is tied to her, or how they communicate. But upon learning of his existence, many are curious. Nathan Dawkins (played by Willem Dafoe) is a researcher for the DPA, or Department of Paranormal Activity. He discovers Jodie when she is young after Jodie’s parents bring her to see someone who hopefully can help with the… ‘Incidents’. Nathan quickly learns that Aiden is a force to be reckoned with, and while Jodie can advise him on what to do, Aiden is his own conscious being living beyond what we can perceive as our world. In an attempt to better understand Jodie and Aiden’s link, Nathan takes in Jodie at a young age and becomes a father figure to her – creating a very dense relationship between the two.
Throughout the years, Jodie becomes more in tuned with her life partner Aiden, and the DPA is becoming more knowledgeable about what Aiden is – that is, not whom, but specifically what and where. Jodie becomes able to use Aiden in various ways, such as destroying, healing and even bending the will of others. This attracts the government’s attention, hoping to use her for their own personal gain. With both the DPA and Military sector of government now very interested in what they have coined the “Infraworld” – a dimension that holds spirits and entities alike, Jodie stands the only one who knows even the slightest of truth about what waits for us on the other side. In order for the world not to fall into the ghastly clutches of the Infraworld, Jodie must uncover the rest of the secrets and halt advances to harness this unknown power.
Instead of the traditional linear plot line, David Cage decided to make Beyond more of a mystery – much like death itself, a theme of the game – and make the events of the game staggered throughout time. You play through multiple chapters, each a pivotal time or event in Jodie’s life ranging from her as a young girl to a young adult. At first this put me off, as I felt I couldn’t grasp the questions that needed answering; I couldn’t see where events were falling in place because everything was so scattered. However, my worst fear upon playing through the first few hours was that I couldn’t get emotionally connected to Jodie. Without that emotional connection between player and character, a story-heavy game will fall flat on its face. Luckily, the more dedicated to uncovering the story you are, the more you are rewarded. By about ¾ of the way through the game, I finally had a good understanding of where Jodie came from and her struggles growing up without a true family or friends; but the true reward comes at the end of the game. Seeing the final events unfold, suddenly every bridge was connected, every emotion felt, every question answered – it was almost too much to take. I dare say that the last hour of the story was the best time I have committed to a game ever. If you can take the time and have the maturity to appreciate the pure craftsmanship that went into the creation of the tale, then you will be rewarded.
Seeing as Beyond: Two Souls is more of an interactive movie than video game, it’s hard to judge the gameplay based off of traditional ideas. Instead, you need to look at how the gameplay improves the overall storytelling experience.
In Beyond, you interact with the world via small white spheres that appear by objects or people. This minimalistic design really made the entire game flow quite well, allowing some freedom but keeping you on task and dedicated to events that benefits the story, character development or the overall environment. At times you will have to use shoulder or face buttons to control specific parts of Jodie to bypass an event (i.e. hold R2 to have Jodie move her right leg while climbing a hillside). While this never gets too exciting, it is a nice change of pace during the game progression.
The heart of the gameplay lies within using Aiden. Throughout the story, you’ll be able to transport yourself to Aiden’s view. Aiden can interact with people or objects: able to push or throw objects, and possess or choke people. Using this constant connection between Jodie and Aiden, you’ll be able to solve multiple puzzles and work around or through obstacles to help progress the story. While the puzzles are never too difficult, there are a lot of different ways to proceed through different events, which is something Beyond really takes advantage of in helping tell the story. At many times in the game you are given choices, whether they be what to say to someone, how to react to a situation, how to progress through an enemy ridden area or what to do on a Saturday night, these choices can impact what happens immediately, or what happens much later down the line. This artistic freedom of affecting your fate as Jodie is a welcomed addition to the classic storytelling. Don’t worry if you’re indecisive however, Beyond: Two Souls takes an interesting position on flow. No matter what choice you make, how you react, what you say – you will progress. The game literally never has a “game over” screen. Even if you mess up by being spotted in a stealth mission, the game will progress in a logical and understandable alternative. This really helps keep the player immersed in the story, which dramatically helps keep interest.
One interesting thing about Beyond is that it actually allows for coop play, putting one player in control of Jodie and the other Aiden. This is dubbed “duo mode” and can be performed via a second dualshock 3… or your mobile phone. That’s right – Quantic Dream gives us a sneak peek into next gen by offering this unique experience. By wireless pairing a phone to your PS3 via wifi network you are able to play either Jodie or Aiden for the entire game! The standard controls of R1, L2 and swiping functions done with the right stick are now mapped simply to touch and swipe controls on your phone. Quite surprisingly the phone app works perfectly, offering no lag and fairly accurate controlling of the character of your choice. Interestingly enough you can also choose to play with your phone solo – if that’s your thing. But keep in mind that you will still need your TV to play, as the phone merely acts as a controller.
While I wish I had more options when controlling Aiden, as I could have bypassed many obstacles different ways (instead of just the few laid out), I felt the gameplay helped make the story. A clunky, obstructive interface and mismatched transitions from player input focus to story focus would have ruined the experience. Instead, Beyond took a little more control than I would have wanted, but in the end, provided a seamless experience that still let me feel like I was in control of this beautifully told adventure.
As any story-heavy game should be, Beyond: Two Souls really captivates the player with its gorgeous, yet at times inconsistent graphics. The first thing I noticed is that throughout literally the entire game, two classic widescreen movie bars rest on the top and bottom of the screen. This simple addition creates a smooth transition between cutscenes and gameplay, and really makes you feel like what you are doing in the game at all times IS a cutscene. Due to the dedication of great graphical representation during gameplay scenes, I often wouldn’t realize that the cutscene had ended! This is due to the hard efforts put forth by Quantic Dream at delivering a borderline next-gen experience. It’s been revealed that they in fact created a new engine to handle many of the graphics in-game, especially lighting effects which I instantly noticed as like nothing I had ever seen before. Different objects reflect light in different ways, and the shading accompanying this was extravagant in every stage.
Quantic Dream also utilized a whole new system of motion capture. While they still equipped actors with the classic jumpsuit with tracking bulbs, they also had a massive array of different cameras by which they were able to truly capture each movement and scene near perfectly. This is reflected extremely well whenever you take the time to truly look at the body language of the characters in the game, whether in cutscene or out! I really felt that the characters were human and not rigid structures just put into semi-acceptable actions. Even a simple action such as walking was represented with such lifelike demonstration, fully equipped with moving clothing and subtle nuances from other people in the game.
Putting real actors into a game can be risky. We know what they look like, and we know they are capable of bringing a large visual donation to their roles. Luckily, Quantic Dream was able to translate their facial expressions into the game in an unprecedented way. With the exception of most minor characters, the facial expressions in cutscenes were a joy to watch. I found myself enjoying a new level of attachment and understanding just by picking up on the delicate touches of expression shown by the characters.
While a slightly more consistent graphic quality could have been brought to the minor characters and busier sections of the game, I truly feel that Beyond is a pure pleasure to sit back and simply watch.
Here I thought The Last of Us had phenomenal voice acting, but Beyond: Two Souls really takes it up a step. Obviously, we should expect brilliant performances from Page and Dafoe (and we get them!) but even minor characters perform past expectations! The glorious thing to remember is that each character had an incredible amount of different lines to say and emotions to convey based on what actions the player has chosen. Being able to properly push those emotions onto the player in every scene is something that is rarely discovered in any form of art these days; but to have it come across in a game where YOUR choices are YOUR emotions being reflected back onto YOU?! That’s something special.
Compared to the incredible voice acting, the rest of the game’s sound effects should have been a major let down, but luckily we weren’t completely decimated by cheap clip art noises. From slight paper turns to spectral groans, Beyond really emphasizes the reality of the situations. While a few sounds may come across as too loud or out of place compared to the environment, I feel this was just slight nick-picking as the quality was still high.
The game’s soundtrack (composed by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe) was something that surprised me however. There was never a lot of music to cap off scenes, instead relying on the environment’s effects to take hold. However, when there was that added attention grabber, I felt that the music properly conveyed what was going on. I never felt that it really drove what was happening, but merely complimented the experience.
Overall Score: 18/20 = 9.0 out of 10
Beyond: Two Souls is a fascinating experience that will force you to dive deep into your consciousness to understand the portrayals of life and death as you know it. Impeccable acting and representation of characters and events make you feel like you’re participating in a cinematic experience, and the emotional ties that go along with it won’t let you forget that your choices really matter. If you can get past some minor inconsistencies and be patient in knowing that you can’t know everything, whichever ending you choose, you won’t be let down.
+ Amazing acting
+ Facial expressions on main characters
+ Ending 30min-1hr of “epiphanies”
+ Great lighting and physics
+ No game over
+ Choices matter and affect immediate and far outcomes
– Minor characters not some facial quality as main
– Some minor inconsistencies in textures and graphic quality
– Non-linear story line may be hard for some to grasp
Copy purchased by author for review purposes.
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