Beyond: Two Souls is the latest creation of Quantic Dream and much like the titles before it, plays more like a choose your own adventure interactive movie than a traditional video game title.
Staring Hollywood hitters Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, using some of the finest motion capture work ever seen in a video game and one huge budget, will this title scale up to become one of the many great PlayStation 3 exclusives we all look back on?
• Developer: Quantic Dream
• Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
• Reviewed on: PlayStation 3
• Also Available On: N/A
• Release Date: Available Now
Beyond: Two Souls follows the story of Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page), a young girl who has been born with a connection to the supernatural entity known as Aiden. Linked by a mysterious spiritual cord, Aiden is never able to leave Jodie’s side and spends his days protecting her, from child to adulthood. As Jodie grows older, the duo’s power grows stronger and attracts the attention of a government agency that studies strange phenomena outside of this world, the Department of Paranormal Activity. Whilst in the care of the DPA, Jodie spends her days being monitored and tested by Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe), a Doctor who seems to care for the special child as if she were his own Daughter.
Following Jodie whilst she tries to accept her link to Aiden, and balances her unique gift with her desire to be a normal young girl, is interesting. On one hand you are thrown into war zones or combat training for the CIA, while on the other she’s battling the overwhelming emotional trials of growing up from childhood adolescence, to early adulthood. It’s an enthralling ride unlike any other experience I’ve encountered from playing a video game before.
Unlike Quantic Dream’s last two titles Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy) and Heavy Rain, which saw the player take control of multiple players through an intertwining path to meet at the end of the story, Beyond: Two Souls takes a different approach by following just the one character’s experience (two if you count Aiden). To help keep the pace of the plot balanced between action cinematography and emotionally heavy scenes, the game’s story is fractured and scattered into different sections of the timeline. Most of the time this technique works in favour of the large plot but at other times it seems to have the opposite effect, changing to a different moment in time with no explanation or reason for the jump.
Again like Heavy Rain back in 2010, Beyond: Two Souls shows off just what this current generation of hardware is really capable of, and that there is still life in the PlayStation 3. The motion capture work used for the game is probably the best to date, though there are odd moments where you catch a glimpse of the old ‘uncanny valley’, but nothing as creepy as say L.A Noire. If you’ve seen any footage from the game then you know the facial detail for close up shots looks amazingly in-depth and as accurate as possible, which is doubly impressive when looking at the face of one Willem Dafoe. But one detail I was especially impressed with was the movements of the characters, watching Jodie go from a walk to a jog or sprint and then slowing pace due to an obstruction is pretty impressive to watch, and really adds to that ‘real life’ feel of the characters.
Gameplay in Beyond: Two Souls is exactly as you’d expect from a game by David Cage, Jodie is controlled with the left thumb stick to move, while the right stick is used to interact with certain objects in the environment, all of which are marked with a white dot. Quick Time Events also play a big role in the control scheme (though not as much as previous titles), and are used for rarer activities, such a cooking or climbing and feel a lot less intrusive than past use of QTE’s.
While playing as Jodie is nothing really special, when you get to grips with her spiritual watcher, things get interesting. By pressing the triangle button you are instantly thrown into Aiden’s perspective, giving you the ability to float around in the air, pass through walls and see other entities that would be invisible to the human eye. Aiden’s key powers are much like those found in the Poltergeist movies, which is awesome and very fun. You can launch objects with some force by locking onto something and pulling back both thumbsticks, this causes the pad to vibrate more intensively the longer you hold back — before letting and flinging the object across the room. This technique may also be used to break things like cameras, windows and monitor screens if you’re feeling particularly mischievous, which means if it was breakable in my play through then, it broke. Other powers in Aiedn’s arsenal include the power to possess or even kill selected people you may encounter along the way. Controllable characters appear to you in a orange tinted aura while potential victim types will appear in red, and yes I have confused the two early on and killed innocents.
As you progress through the plot of Beyond: Two Souls, you’ll find yourself coming up against difficult decisions at almost every turn, which while they don’t seem to change the overall outcome of the story’s ending, they do have a major impact on your experience. Much like The Walking Dead: The Game (the good one), it’s not the outcome, it’s the getting there that matters most. The similarities don’t stop there either, whenever taking control of Aiden, I felt the need to always watch over Jodie to be sure she’s safe and wronging those that put her in danger or harm her in anyway, much like the relationship between Lee Everett and Clementine.
One of the more fascinating mechanics is one that wasn’t highly advertised, the use of co-operative multiplayer. This is something I’d completely overlooked until being told to go play with my partner and not communicate or plan just how we would play the game. I chose Aiden, who I now controlled with a tablet using the Beyond: Touch App, which I have to say, had a really sleek feel to it using only swipe gestures. Now when playing with two people, the gameplay is exactly the same as single player, but you must switch between characters for the other player to jump in, however once they are in, it is left up to them as to when they switch back. My partner being the kind hearted person she is, played through with the intention of helping people, I as Aiden, felt the need to throw things around and choke people until getting a slap (real life, not the game), this became cause for one of the most entertaining nights playing a multilayer game than I’d ever had. I would definitely urge anyone to play this way if you can.
As a game, Beyond: Two Souls has been given far from favourable scores when reviewed and I do see why. Unlike Heavy Rain, where any character could die and not make through to the ending, if you fail in this game you change the story a bit and at no point do you get the sense Jodie’s in any danger. The sci-fi elements of the story can be a bit on the nonsensical site, the game’s story and setting shifts to different environments and at times can feel like a multitude of movies being mashed together when they just have no business being anywhere near each other. But I can’t help but look past it’s flaws as Beyond: Two Souls delivered exactly what I wanted, something different.
Beyond: Two Souls at the end of the day is something hard not to enjoy, it blurs the line between game and movie and is definitely worth playing through. Thanks to its Hollywood blockbuster elements and stunning visuals, it like many other titles released in 2013 provides a much worthy salute to this generation, as the next is just around the corner.