GAME NAME: Beyond: Two Souls
DEVELOPER(S): Quantic Dream
RELEASE DATE(S): October 9th, 2013
When David Cage revealed Beyond: Two Souls at E3 in 2012, the excitement was magnanimous. It followed a game called Heavy Rain which many applauded for its innovation and ingenuity. Beyond: Two Souls would have a lot to live up to, and Cage assured that it would build on what Heavy Rain provided in the space often thought of as “interactive movie”. Over a year later and the game is finally out; does it live up to these expectations; does it go beyond, or does it fail?
Beyond: Two Souls is exactly what it is billed to be. Quantic Dream try to blend gaming and cinema in a style that attempts to draw the gamer in, make them realise they are part of the plot and subtly manoeuvre, caress even, the storyline and outcome in a way that seems most fitting to them. It does this all while bringing us closer to the characters, making us feel for them, almost too genuinely at times. It’s something that Beyond does incredibly well, for the most part.
Before I carry on with the experience of Beyond: Two Souls, let me explain a bit about the story and the situation. The main character is a girl named Jodie and she has a relationship with an entity. She always has. That entity’s name is Aiden. Jodie and Aiden have a bond which is cemented throughout the game as their relationship develops internally while external relationships are developed at the same time.
Jodie is the only one that can see or hear Aiden. Throughout the game, which spans 15 years of Jodie’s life at different points, Jodie and Aiden must work together to overcome various situations, some of them personal; some of them during their time at the CIA; and on other missions which Jodie finds herself trying to accomplish.
It’s an interesting take on the gameplay. Controlling Jodie is much like Heavy Rain, and Fahrenheit before that, in that you essentially manage a number of consecutive QTE’s during the action sections, while mixing it up with interaction sections where Jodie can assess things around her. Forced QTE’s in games that don’t really require them have always seemed pointless to me, but considering the effect Quantic Dream are going for it always seems fitting for their games, and in Beyond it is once again a method of control that works. It means that you never have to worry too much about a combination of buttons, or memorise what does what, but rather allow the game to make you feel part of what is happening in front of you, in as seamless a way as possible, without losing the feeling of actually being in control.
Controlling Aiden, when needed, is given a different approach. These sections fit into a sandbox type mechanic in that you are in total control of the entity with the ability to fly over the area and see what things can be interacted with. Aiden has a number of skills which include moving objects, controlling objects and, of course, destroying objects. These objects extend to other characters as well and it’s managing these skills which become important. Deciding how to use Aiden often follows the script, which may make the game feel like it doesn’t have that much freedom, but considering the game is billed as an interactive movie, it makes sense to do so.
The controls and the camera can occasionally get in the way, but this, again, feels deliberate at times in that Quantic Dream want you to follow the game script. It doesn’t mean that the game is the same for everyone. Each section, which is split into separate, important points in Jodie’s life, has multiple outcomes depending on the steps and decisions you make. At times you may have the option of killing someone or sparing them, but know that despite it not seeming that it has any effect, it actually does. It’s something the game does so well throughout. You will think that the way you are playing the game is the only way, but as soon as you talk to someone else who played it, you realise that it wasn’t always the same. It’s a different experience for everyone and getting gamers to share their experiences is something the game is clearly designed to do, and something it succeeds at doing.
Having multiple outcomes and experiences is one thing, but ensuring that it all follows an interesting narrative is another. For a game that is seen as an interactive movie, the storytelling and the character progression are always going to be the most important aspects. Fortunately, these are the two things that Beyond: Two Souls gets most right. The story is intriguing for the most part, although it does take some odd twists and turns which you might question, depending on who you are and how many paranormal type stories you have been exposed to. If, like me, you haven’t seen that much, it will all feel very new and fresh. If you have been exposed to a lot, however, it may feel clichéd and boring at times.
Either way though, the story does a good job of keeping you interested even if you have an idea of what is going to happen. It does this mostly with the character progression and certain situations which will affect everyone differently. There are scenes in the game which will have you responding differently to your peers. A few scenes that nearly brought me to tears may be laughed off by others who don’t have some emotional ties or similar real life experiences. Whatever the case may be, the character progression is clear from the start. It is impossible not to feel the bond between Jodie and Aiden grow through the different phases.
It is even more impossible not to feel like you really know Jodie and the difficulties she has been through.While playing the game, you become aware of how her experiences affect her and in how many different ways. You will care, it is almost guaranteed. It’s this that really sets Beyond apart from other games. The unique feeling of certain sections make you wonder more about the characters and the game does a good job of allowing you to believe what you will, while at times it does give you the hard facts about what is really going on.
Beyond: Two Souls has a few extras in it, in that you can play the game multiplayer if you want, with one person controlling Jodie and the other controlling Aiden. You can also use a smartphone or tablet as a control if you want. There are also little bonus items on each stage which can be found by Aiden; these bonus items unlock content such as concept art and various videos once you have finished the game.
At the end of the day however, it’s the main story you will keep coming back to. Sure, some of it feels silly, but because of the way it brings you closer to the characters, you will want to see it through regardless. Along the way you will need to make crucial decisions which alter the game and the journey of Jodie’s life. You can’t help but feel as though you grow together with Jodie as the game goes on. The game draws on so many personal feelings, even where none should be such as between Jodie and Aiden, for this truly is as much Aiden’s journey as it is Jodie’s.
To top it all off, the game has some of the best graphics and animations current-gen consoles will probably ever be capable of, capped off by some amazing motion capture animation from some of Hollywood’s top actors. Willem Dafoe performs excellently in his role, and there is not enough praise to throw on the insanely talented Ellen Page for the life she brings to Jodie’s character. It’s almost worth playing the game just for her performance alone.
By now you have probably read plenty of reviews, or seen scores that are average to low, but I implore you to give Beyond: Two Souls more of a chance. It may not have the best gaming mechanics, but it never claims to. What it does have is a compelling narrative filled with emotional and lifelike moments. It has characters that you might just find yourself in, and it emphasises the many potential journeys any one person can take.
So in spite all the negativity around the game, I honestly could not stop playing it. Every time something happened in the game, I needed to carry on to see what happened next. It takes a special game to do that, not one that is average and broken. Give this game the benefit of the doubt, especially if you enjoyed Fahrenheit and, to a lesser extent, Heavy Rain. Beyond: Two Souls has some misplaced mechanisms, but is ultimately a fantastic gaming experience.