Beyond: Two Souls Review
A hodgepodge of scenes that form a fascinating tale.
Author: Jeff McAllister
I cannot remember the last time I played a game that had such tonal swings between being absolutely creepy and curious, and being so incredibly boring. I have also never dreaded writing a review in the past as much as I have this one for fear of ruining any part of the story with inadvertent spoilers while trying to explain what makes Beyond: Two Souls such a fantastic—and tedious—game. Developer Quantic Dreams, the creators of Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain have successfully created the next evolution of its unique style of gameplay—taking what worked from previous games and removing –for the most part—what didn’t, leaving an end product that is head and shoulders above its predecessors.
Without giving away too much of the story, you take the role of a young girl named Jodie Holmes (performed by actor Ellen Page) and while you may seem normal and like other girls in most regards, you have a secret that makes you a little different. You are linked to an “entity” named Aiden who is constantly with you, albeit invisible, but always present nonetheless. Throughout the game you will explore different times and varying elements of Jodie’s life—some at a very young age when Aiden was her only friend—and upwards through the years when Jodie is more grown-up and struggles with having an “entity” always attached to her.
You will also bounce back and forth between chapters that explore Jodie’s time at the DPA (Department of Paranormal Activity) —a division of the CIA where Jodie has spent most of her life under the care of Nathan Dawkins (performed by Willem Defoe) and Cole Freeman (fantastically performed by Kadeem Hardison). The narrative is arranged non-linearly —you will sometimes spend as little as 5 minutes learning about Jodie’s past and do nothing but interact with a couple objects— and then jump into a long chapter that takes place years later. Subsequent chapters will take you back even further in time digging deeper into her past, explaining things bit by bit, but almost always leaving you with more questions.
If there was one thing for which Heavy Rain was highly criticized –other than the plot holes and most of the voices—it was that it was very heavily focused on the button prompts that would constantly appear on the screen. Thankfully, Beyond: Two Souls does away with them for the most part—although they do still infrequently appear, they are seldom used outside of conversation choices. Now you will find that there are white dots located near objects with which you can interact. The interesting thing about the white dots is that they do not relay any information other than the object can be used. What you need to do with the object—usually just moving the right stick to the right or up—is up to you to figure out. Likewise with the hand-to-hand combat and action scenes found within the game.
At various times in the game, Jodie will need to either run away from enemies or interact with them directly. When this happens, similar to the white dots, you are not explicitly told what needs to be done. The action will slow down, the screen will fade, and you will quickly need to decide which way to move Jodie—either push backwards to avoid something, up to jump, down to duck, forward to strike, and so forth. Often it is confusing to tell exactly what is going on in the short time you are given, but there didn’t seem to be any fail states throughout the entire game, as not once did the game end because I had messed up on the motions.
There are also many times that you will need to take control of Aiden to help solve puzzles and help fend off enemies. Almost anytime you are using Jodie, a simple button press will allow you to control the floating bodiless entity, but only for a certain distance; some parts of the game allow you to go much farther than others—but you will always be tethered to Jodie. When in Aiden’s form, there will blue dots that allow interaction by moving the analog sticks together in certain configurations, the only on-screen prompts given being twin purple glowing dots. For the most part controlling Aiden is a fun way to interact with environmental objects and spook people who are near you, but for the times that it is a necessity, you will be forced into it.
Not all chapters that take place outside of the DPA are action-focused, and some just seem oddly placed. One chapter where you spend the time cleaning your apartment and deciding what to have for dinner was just as boring and tedious as a chapter where you spend a glut of time in the desert looking after farm animals. The stealth chapters can be downright maddening since Jodie controls like a dump truck at the best of times, but almost every chapter in the game features a great cast of supporting characters for you to interact with as well as numerous choices that may not be obvious, but can make a big difference to how things play out during your 12 or so hours within the campaign.
Beyond: Two Souls takes everything ham-handed in Heavy Rain and tosses it out the window to make a game that is incredibly enjoyable—except for those few and far between chapters that are mind-numbingly tiresome—and serves up a story that will have you gasping at its twists and turns as it plays out. The story offered is on-par with the strong acting of the cast, and the visuals of the game itself are some of the best to be released on a console to date.
There are very few games available that have the body language and facial expressions that Beyond offers and it is easy to see the strengths of the “movie approach” that the game was going for. Beyond may be a little too out there for some people once it starts to roll up near the end, but it is definitely a game to play all the way through and experience for yourself. There’s pretty good chance it’s not even close to what you were expecting.
Title: Beyond: Two Souls