Beyond: Two Souls
Beyond: Two Souls has finally come out and worked its way into our gaming world. If you’ve been hiding under a rock and just stumbled upon this review by accident, this is the new title written and directed by David Cage of Heavy Rain fame. Quantic Dream being the developer in case you are in from that angle. Either way, in case you are on the fence about giving Beyond: Two Souls a play or a purchase, I am here again to help you make an informed-ish decision.
This is a story about a girl,
Ellen Page Jodie Holmes, who is ‘different’ and refuses to use lip balm that also happens to have been born with an ‘entity’ or ghost attached to her. She is taken in by Willem Dafoe Nathan Dawkins, a paranormal researcher and friend of the CIA, to be studied and trained to go into the world and keep all of us Americans safe using her ghost ally. Obviously the phrase, ‘dead men tell no tales’ doesn’t mean squat when you have someone who can talk to them and all of the dirty secrets of Jodie’s past and of her superiors in the CIA come flowing out. This is her story.
My first major issue with Beyond: Two Souls is with some of the motion capture. This is surprising as I will also praise it below but this has to do with the ‘normal’ movements that are seen throughout the game. For instance, I have no clue how Ellen Page walks around in her normal life but if we use this as a basis there is a lot of slight jogging to walking and spinning around to see everything around her. It doesn’t hurt gameplay, but it does hurt the overall feel of the character as I don’t know a single person who would ever walk/run/jog like this in their real life. Also when the Beyond: Two Souls is all about the amazing motion capture I think it really hurts overall theme to see this occur so often.
Next up on the plate would have to be the illusion of having any real choice to change the story. There are actions or dialog choices that do change the course of the story, but then there are some that could easily change things that don’t matter what option you take. For instance there is a scene where Jodie is asked to do something, it is specific but I am not going to add a spoiler, and you have the option to do it, refuse to do it, or completely walk away from the scene. No matter what you choose, I tried all three, Jodie still has to do it and the scene plays out as if you said nothing at all. Outside of upsetting an NPC there is also no change to the story or game world, so why do I even get the choice if there isn’t going to be a consequence? Why not just play out the movie and forget I am there? This is only one instance and it was more of a ‘hey, are you still playing and not just watching’ kind of option. Don’t tease me if my free will means nothing.
Lastly, and this did affect the overall game play; the onscreen queues for both Aiden (The Ghost) and Jodie were not always clear. In this regard I am talking about the touch screen option for controlling Aiden and the slow motion for Jodie.
When it came to the slow motion actions for Jodie, like combat or dodging, you are supposed to move the right stick in the direction that Jodie is moving on screen. The only issue is that sometimes it looks as if she is ducking or swinging her arms in a specific direction when in slow motion, but in reality she is trying to jump back or dodge the other way and her arms are flailing as in Juno. As you can imagine this led to a few attacks missing or landing as the incorrect input was entered. Some times this led to an unwanted failure or changed the course of the mission that I did not want. This wasn’t too rampant, but it was present and annoying as hells.
When it came in regards to controlling Aiden there were options that showed up that were not covered in tutorials or in the online manual. In one specific instance I had to restart the whole game as I couldn’t exit the command nor get it to execute so the game just went on with me not moving forward and needing to ignore the option altogether. Granted this was only when using the smart phone app and I never ran into the issue during normal play, but since the touch screen app is a selling point I think it could have used a bit more polish than it really got.
The story and how it is told. I know above I joked about Beyond: Two Souls‘ story in the specific section, but I was completely entertained and fell hook, line, and sinker for the grand twist. Normally that is a hard task but I attribute that to the way the story was told. If you are a fan of how the story unfolds in Pulp Fiction or any number of films that use the same method then you will also love it as I did. For Beyond: Two Souls it generally went older Jodie section then younger Jodie section and kept swapping at the same pace. In this instance it gave such small amounts of the overarching plot that it kept me craving to find out what was next and how I could bring it all to the climax. Very much like Heavy Rain.
Another aspect of Beyond: Two Souls that I truly loved even though I had a gripe above was the motion capture, specifically the facial capture. Quantic Dream has definitely gone leaps and bounds in this arena for games. In some instances if I didn’t know I was playing a game and the world graphics where a bit more advanced I could swear I was watching a live actor portraying all the emotions and dialog on screen. It was one of their goals and I feel that they nailed it right on the head. I wouldn’t say it is perfect as there is still room to push forward, but the motion capture is on the top of the list when it comes to all other games currently out and trying to use this aspect as a selling point of the game.
Lastly, multiple endings. I love games that have multiple endings, even if they are not all too different than others, but the feeling that some of the major choices I made during the game had a bit of impact on the ending is amazing. Most of the choices do crop up near the end of the game but that doesn’t change the feeling. I wish more games allowed for this instead of forcing one specific story although this feature does work out best for games like Beyond: Two Souls that let you have some amount of choice in game. The entire point is to engage the player in a way other than just push button X to get result Y. Multiple endings to the game, or even missions here, adds that extra connection.
Should you buy Beyond: Two Souls? Ask yourself this first, did you like Heavy Rain? If the answer is yes, then you should totally pick this one up. In all other instances I would suggest picking up B: TS as I found it very engaging with a fun story and look at how advanced we are getting with in-game animation. It does have a bit of replay value but that really comes down to the multiple endings and alterations to the story, so if you are not into seeing everything the game has to offer or trophy hunting this won’t be a selling point for you. It is well worth playing the main story through at least once though, twice if you want to try playing using the touch screen app.
Beyond: Two Souls was developed by Quantic Dream and published by Sony Computer Entertainment exclusively for the PS3 on October 8th, 2013. A copy of the game was provided by the publisher for reviewing purposes.