Beyond: Two Souls
Developer: Quantic Dream | Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment | Release Date: 2013 | Genre: 3rd Person Action / Adventure | Website: N/A | Purchase: Amazon
Beyond: Two Souls is the tale of a young girl, Jodie Holmes, who finds herself tethered from birth to some supernatural entity she calls Aiden. Aiden is able to influence objects in the physical world, which not only freaks everyone around Jodie out, but also makes her very interesting to the government. The game follows Jodie from her childhood and teenage years where she is studied by the Department of Paranormal Activity into adulthood where she is recruited by the CIA.
Each chapter in the game is set during a different part of Jodie’s life, but they don’t take place chronologically and constantly jump back and forth in time. One minute you might be controlling a seven year old Jodie struggling to fit in and the next she is a trained CIA operative performing a covert mission in some far flung country. The constant change does keep things interesting, but it also makes the narrative unnecessary convoluted and make it feel like some chapters are just filler.
The game was created by Quantic Dream, the folks responsible for the rather brilliant Heavy Rain and they have actually managed to improve on quite a few areas compared to their previous titles. Visually Beyond is one of the best looking games on the system and effortlessly demonstrates what the PS3 can do in the right hands. The biggest improvement compared to Heavy Rain is the acting as Beyond features the talents of Ellen page and William Dafoe, who lend their vocals and motion captured likenesses to their characters. Ellen Page shines in her role as Jodie and steals the show with her convincing acting. William Dafoe steps into the role of Nathan Dawkins, the doctor tasked with studying Jodie and her abilities and he delivers a remarkable performance as well. Some of the dialogue and acting in Heavy Rain felt a bit off at times, but there is no such issues in Beyond.
Quantic Dream must have taken heed after all the feedback they got about Heavy Rain as the interface and controls in Beyond is much more streamlined. Instead of giant button prompts appear on the screen, Beyond now shows small dots which only require you to push the right analog stick in the correct direction to perform an action as Jodie. There is still plenty of quick time events where you have to mash buttons, press the right combinations or waggle the controller about, but the mundane interactions and movement is no longer such a chore. For the fight scenes the action slows down and you are given a limited amount of time to press the right analog stick in the direction that Jodie is attacking or dodging on screen. This is easier said than done as even with the slow motion it can still be tricky to discern what direction Jodie is moving. Don’t worry though, the developer of Beyond: Two Souls have an intense dislike for Game Over screens and you will never see one in this game no matter how hard you try to fail. Some of your choices and actions might lead you down a slightly different path, but eventually you will reach the end. The focus is very much on the story and not exploration or puzzle solving which is obviously not going to resonate with all players. If you were a fan of Heavy Rain you will appreciate what Quantic Dream has achieved with this game though.
Jodie is not the only character you control in the game as her ghostly companion Aiden also plays an important role. Pressing Triangle switches control to Aiden who can float around in first person view and move throw any solid objects, walls and doors. He is tethered to Jodie so you can’t float off and go explore the entire level though. When in control of Aiden you can interact with objects to make them fall, float or fly across the room and even take control of people to do your bidding. Some hostile folks can’t be controlled, but outright strangled. There are plenty of enemies that you cannot control or kill with Aiden forcing you to do the dirty work with Jodie which is a bit out, but prevents the game from being even more of a walk in the park. Finally Aiden has the ability to absorb and transfer memories from people or bodies and transfer them to Jodie. You can even download the Beyond: Touch app free from Google Play and let a second player take control of Aiden using a tablet which is rather nifty.
Beyond: Two Souls try really hard to weave an intricate and engrossing tale, but due to all the padding and jumping around I did not find it quite as involving as Heavy Rain was. Some of the chapters are action packed and had me on the edge of my seat while in others it felt like I was just hanging around waiting for something to happen that would move the story forward. There are a few predictable twists and turns as well as some genuinely interesting developments so I would call the story boring. As almost each chapter is set in a totally new location it is obviously great for variety, but it can also make it feel like you are playing a completely different game at times. A few chapters in particular feel really out of place in the grand scheme of things. There are a ton of endings, though, so if you are a completionist you are going to be busy for quite a while. The only problem with replaying the game is that you notice how little impact some of your choices really have and how annoying it is to deal with an auto-save system.
The highlight of the game is undoubtedly the voice acting and animations which make it feel like you are watching a Hollywood movie. If we had to score the game purely on the audio and visuals, it would have attained a near perfect mark. I would still recommend that everyone at least check out the game just to experience what Quantic Dream have attempted with Beyond: Two Souls. It falls short of the mark a few times, but nobody can fault the ambition of the developers. It will be really interesting to see what Quantic Dream attempts next on PS4 hardware.
*Review originally published 2013.