Opinion has been split regarding Quantic Dream’s latest project, Beyond: Two Souls. Some loved it, others loathed it and some decreed it an abomination to the medium, denouncing it as a video game. During my time playing the game I felt like I went through each of these opinions.
Initially I loved Beyond: Two Souls and was more than happy to part with some of my hard earned cash come launch day. I discussed it with friends, relating how we navigated the series of non-chronological set pieces that make up the life of main character Jodie Holmes, voiced and modelled on actress Ellen Page. Yet in its final moments, the cracks in the paint began to show with Beyond: Two Souls asking me to make some final decisions that weigh too heavily for a game based upon the notion of choice.
It’s a shame since there’s a pretty poignant story to tell; Jodie’s link with the enigmatic entity Aiden completely alters her life, leaving her at an early age in the care of doctors and scientists. Taking its toll on her adolescent development, Jodie is a young girl hoping to fit in and lead a normal life. Though in the world of Beyond: Two Souls, nothing is normal. Eventually the CIA get wind of Jodie’s “powers,” quick to use her for their own purposes and forming the latter part of the games story. Upon realising her handlers true intentions, she attempts to strike out on her own and living life wanted for “treason.”
Beyond: Two Souls captures the true essence of an action game, travelling from the sweltering heat of the sandy desert to snowy peaks halfway across the world. However the non-chronological order of events creates a narrative dissonance, devaluing choices that I felt should have a much larger impact on Jodie’s life. One scene in particular sees a young Holmes attending a party and the player is presented with the choice to leave or exact spiteful revenge on the guests, possibly in a Carrie-style manner, though this does little to shape her character.
The core gameplay revolves around making it from one set piece to the next. During some of the more action heavy set-pieces, the game has a tendency to play itself. One section involves evading a helicopter on a motorcycle, but career it into the side of the road and the invisible walls take over, guiding you toward the next cutscene. As we pointed out in our Beyond: Two Souls hands on preview, this is also one of the few moments where the game actually let’s the player take a bit more control of the reins which is fairly disconcerting.
Beyond: Two Souls seems to be afraid to let you fail. Miss a prompt during combat and Jodie tends to take down the assailant regardless, her punishment is suffering a small beating which like many other instances in the game, has little to no impact on the wider narrative. When responding to other characters you’ll be offered prompts. Leave them on-screen long enough and the game makes the decision for you. It’s the exact reason why many have dubbed it as more of a film over a game. The game prompts remain less intrusive than predecessor Heavy Rain and do streamline the experience. Interacting with most objects requires pushing the right analogue stick in the objects direction. That doesn’t mean the game isn’t laden with quick time events and there’s still a fair share of button mashing to do.
Controlling Aiden is a different matter entirely as his tether to Jodie prevents him from straying too far, but he’s able to interact with people and objects in the immediate vicinity. These abilities are vital in solving some of the tougher puzzles and are a crucial way Aiden combats enemies – strangling them, controlling them via possession and crushing them under the environment. Switching between Aiden and Jodie is accomplished by tapping the triangle button, though there are times when the pair are forcibly separated or when Jodie reigns Aiden in.
The pair’s relationship fosters over the course of the campaign, what appears initially to be uncontrollable hostility is simply the desire to keep his charge safe. Though admittedly Aiden is far from unmoveable, one scene has him tackling his jealousy on a date, presenting the opportunity to spoil things or act as a voyeur to a blossoming romance, more than a little awkward. That’s not to say Jodie is your typical helpless heroine. Stealth heavy segments put her CIA training to the test, darting from cover to cover and stealthily eliminating enemies.
Whilst the actual gameplay can fall a little flat, production values in Beyond: Two Souls are extremely high and it’s hardly surprising from a studio that draws on so many cinematic influences. Leads Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe do a fantastic job at bringing the Jodie Holmes and Nathan Dawkins characters to life in a culmination of fantastic performance and in-depth motion capture, managing strong expression regardless of the trials and tribulations they face.
The final moments of Beyond: Two Souls are the game’s biggest problem and what I felt to be a kick in the teeth to those devoting time to the campaign. If your game is based upon player choice, a players actions up until that point should shape the main character and by the time a critical decision rolls around, your experiences should mean the decision has already been made. Quantic Dreams seem to disagree on this matter or perhaps I’m not looking into this deep enough and the sad irony is that Beyond: Two Souls is actually a story about the numerous haircut’s Jodie Holmes sports throughout her life.
Ultimately the game is a mixed bag. You’ll enjoy discussing how you tackled individual problems with friends, but in reality Beyond: Two Souls really is a case of style over substance. Strip away the high production values and great performances from Page and Dafoe and the whole experience feels a little hollow. Decision making may be the forefront of the Beyond: Souls experience, but when the final decisions are weighted the heaviest, it devalues the journey to that point.
Beyond: Two Souls is out now exclusively for PS3.