Quantic Dream’s Beyond: Two Souls is the company’s second PS3 exclusive that tries to blend gaming and a cinematic experience together. Beyond is bigger in every way than Quantic Dream’s last game, Heavy Rain, but it’s lofty goals come off with varying degrees of success.
Beyond tells the story of Jodie Holmes, who has an entity named Aiden linked to her, and follows her through different stages of her life. The game takes an unusual approach to the storytelling method by giving us snippets of Jodie’s life from random points in her timeline.
This approach creates a choppy and uneven flow of the story. Often you will follow an event that takes upwards of an hour to complete followed by a scene that is over and done with in around five minutes. The story also didn’t seem to follow any specific structure and chose to instead hop back and forth in Jodie’s timeline, which ultimately made it more difficult to connect with Jodie because you were seeing a different version of her without the real context of how she got there.
This came off as the developers taking the easy way out. They were able to throw the player into any situation they wanted while only very rarely having to explain why Jodie was there at the given time. The game was marketed throughout its development as a game where you would grow up with your character. The opportunity for that connection was immediately lost when the player is forced to live Jodie’s life in snapshots.
That said, there are many single events in the timeline throughout the campaign that capture Jodie and her mindset at the time perfectly. The strongest scenes were those that took place during Jodie’s adolescents. One scene in particular had a very Carrie vibe going for it, and I found myself caring for Jodie in that particular moment more than I had for characters that I had spent an entire game with. The problem is those moments are few and far between in the overall story.
The controls were also more difficult to use than a game pegged as an interactive movie should be. The combat in particular managed to be a constant thorn in my side. To fight in Beyond, you move the analog stick in the direction Jodie is moving. To block the enemy, move the stick toward the enemy based on where Jodie is facing, to dodge left and right you flick the stick left or right depending on what Jodie does, etc.
The problem with that is it wasn’t always clear how Jodie was moving. It was extremely difficult to distinguish whether Jodie was moving to duck under a blow or to move forward and block the hit.
That brings me to another glaring problem with the game. There is almost no threat to Jodie in the whole game. No matter how much of a beating she takes there is rarely a game over. If anything, Aiden will just pop up and heal Jodie so she can continue fighting.
Aiden’s controls are where the game feels most like a game and less a movie. As the entity attached to Jodie, you will often be tasked with floating around the area and hunting for things to interact with to help Jodie.
At the begin of the game, this proves to be a lot of fun. The first true scene you get to play as Aiden you are able to play him as an out of control spectre and are let loose in an experimental observation room. Interacting with things as Aiden gets dull quickly though.
To interact with objects you lock on to points of interest and pull both sticks down and out to knock things over, together to choke specific enemies, and apart to possess others. These simple motions get dull quick and the restraints on what Aidan can interact with or for that matter possess makes little sense.
The characters in Beyond, however, added new dimensions to themselves with some great voice acting. Quantic Dream stepped up their game in this department and almost all of the voice actors in Beyond are leaps and bounds ahead of the acting in Quantic Dream’s last game, Heavy Rain.
Ellen Page steals the show because she embodies Jodie. Yes, Page does play what has become the typecast “Ellen Page” role in Jodie, but she plays the part with just as much enthusiasm as she has in any of her silver screen roles. Willem Dafoe also gives a solid performance as Jodie’s guardian/researcher Nathan Dawkins. His dialogue isn’t written as well as Jodie’s is, but he does a great job with what he’s given and constantly makes you wonder whether you can truly trust him.
The likenesses of the actors are greatly done as well. In fact, the whole game looks pretty spectacular. Where Heavy Rain suffered from a pretty bland color palette due to the premise of the game, Beyond offers a wide variety of colors from various locations. One moment you can be playing as young Jodie in her snowy backyard and the next you can be adult Jodie riding on horseback through the desert.
Beyond: Two Souls is not Game of the Year quality. Quantic Dream attempts to create an experience that is above what a regular game offers, but ultimately falls short. The game’s moments of greatness are few and far between and the controls become boring after a couple hours of play. If you have to play it I’d rent it.