BEYOND: Two Souls review
The Good:

Stunning graphics; engrossing and captivating storyline; Oscar-worthy acting performance by Ellen Page; emotionally deep and resonant; pushes the medium in surprising ways.

The Bad:

Maneuvering the game camera can be an exercise in frustration; level of interactivity is disappointing; sometimes difficult to see how your choices actually affect the story.

Our Verdict:

An ambitious story with real, complex characters makes BEYOND: Two Souls one of the year’s most memorable adventures, as long as you’re willing to look past some constrained and awkward gameplay.

In many ways, BEYOND: Two Souls is a brilliant piece of work – this PlayStation 3 exclusive is an innovative, ambitious, gorgeous game that offers a beautifully told tale that makes it difficult not to become emotionally invested in its compelling cast of characters. It’s certainly not a perfect game, however, and like Quantic Dream’s earlier efforts before it, not all of the experiments in gameplay are unequivocal successes.

The success of 2010's Heavy Rain upped the ante for David Cage’s French studio, and while it’s laudable that they've continued to push both the technological and thematic envelopes, there are some moments during the course of this latest journey which feel like they may have over-reached. That being said, it’s a welcome relief to find success hasn’t spoiled Quantic Dream’s desire to play with expectation.

Let’s deal with the elephant in the room right away. If you didn’t think Heavy Rain was an adventure game, you certainly won’t think that BEYOND: Two Souls is either. The game tweaks Heavy Rain’s formula but doesn’t change it: exploration is still handled by moving characters directly with an analog stick, Quick Time Events (QTEs) propel action scenes forward, and the interface is designed to facilitate a seamless narrative, not to showcase mind-bending puzzles. What it does offer is a bold, unconventional approach to storytelling that should captivate any fan of sophisticated interactive narratives.

In BEYOND you will spend 20 hours living 15 years in the life of Jodie Holmes, the game’s heroine. Like all of the characters, Jodie’s avatar, speech, and mannerisms have been motion-captured from a real live actress – in this case, the Oscar-nominated Ellen Page. You will visit specific, important moments in her life in thematic – but not chronological – order, and you'll soon learn that Jodie is no ordinary girl. Since birth, she’s been spiritually attached to a ghostly entity that she knows as Aiden. Having this paranormal presence, who is both soul mate and guardian, means that Jodie never has a real chance to have a normal life.

Taken from her mother and abandoned by her foster parents, Jodie is raised in a tiny apartment (fitted with surveillance cameras) in the Paranormal Studies Department of America’s Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The researcher in charge of this division is Nathan Hawkins, BEYOND’s second major character, here played by the equally talented and accomplished actor Willem Dafoe. Their relationship, as Jodie grows from lab rat to surrogate daughter to CIA operative, is one of the lasting and engaging plotlines featured in the game. While the younger Jodie’s adventures are mostly expository, either introducing character elements or the intricacies of her interesting powers, her later adventures as a CIA operative provide the game with a canvas to build larger tales, ultimately involving a quest to save the entire planet.

The first thing any player is going to notice is the visuals – it’s almost impossible to imagine how gaming graphics, without being entirely photo-realistic, can improve on what BEYOND offers. Jodie travels to a number of locales throughout her journey, and from a suburban home under a blanket of December snow to a Somali battlefield, each environment is painstakingly rendered and recreated with the utmost care to realism. I was struck again and again how even the smallest touches were captured. Details like the posters in teenager Jodie’s bedroom to the minute details on futuristic lab equipment make it nearly impossible to not believe that you are walking through very real environments.

Of course, the motion capture helps in creating such realism, with one caveat. Although both Page and Dafoe play their roles brilliantly – Page absolutely knocks it out of the park from beginning to end – the fact that the two most important characters are played by recognizable actors was actually a minor distraction for me. Perhaps it's just the novelty of having A-list actors appear so profoundly in a game, but I couldn’t stop thinking of them in studio with technology mapping all of their expressions, which I found somewhat disrupted the immersion. Nevertheless, the degree of emotion that Cage and his team have been able to capture in BEYOND is stunning, from Dafoe’s facial tics to the movement of Page’s eyes, even tears running down cheeks. As impressive as the facial animations in Heavy Rain were, this is a significant leap forward.

The gameplay in BEYOND is a little more uneven than its technology. You’ll spend most of the game playing as Jodie, moving her around each scene in third-person with the controller. She can interact with objects when a white dot appears – in order to push a button, open a door, or play with a doll, you simply need to push one of the thumbsticks in the right direction. Not unlike the interface in Heavy Rain, certain actions may demand the dexterous use of other buttons. Climbing, for instance, requires you to hit a sequence of keys to move Jodie up the rocks. Also like its predecessor, there are several sequences where you will have to react quickly in order to keep Jodie from harm.

There are very few "puzzles" in the game (Jodie doesn’t have an inventory), and when you do need to think through a situation, usually clicking on every available action will eventually advance the story. QTEs return here, although a little more elegantly than in Heavy Rain. When confronted with one of these action scenes, you must move the stick in the direction that Jodie is moving. For instance, if she’s punching left, in order to connect you must move the stick left. To successfully duck, you must move the stick down – it’s a fairly easy process to grasp, since all you have to do is follow Jodie’s onscreen cue. My problem was that these scenarios would often happen when I least expected them, and by the time I was prepared to respond, Jodie had probably already been hurt.

At appropriate times, you can switch to the viewpoint of Aiden with a simple touch of a button. As an enigmatic apparition, he is not confined by gravity or walls, and can move freely about in any direction – as long as he doesn’t move too far from Jodie herself. He can also manipulate the living world in rather unique ways. Aiden is able to create sudden bursts of kinetic force (which can be used to hurl open doors or smash windows) and disrupt electrical devices. His ability to affect people is even more disturbing. Certain characters in the game provide Aiden the opportunity to choke them or take bodily possession of them.

Continued on the next page...





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Game Info

BEYOND: Two Souls

Platform: PlayStation 3

Genre: Thriller

Developer: Quantic Dream

A new interactive psychological thriller from the creators of Heavy Rain.

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Releases
Territory Date Publisher
Worldwide October 8 2013 Sony Computer Entertainment
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User Score

Average based on 10 ratings

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User Reviews

Posted by millenia on Oct 16, 2013

Entertaining and immersive fun

At first I must admit that I am also a fan of Fahrenheit and Heavy Rain and I think the newest Quantic Dream release doesn't pale in... Read the review »

Posted by Geoff Kelly on Oct 14, 2013

Well worth a look, but the milage varies

The Good: Consistently a gorgeous game; Excellent voice-acting. The Bad: Inconsistent plot; Lack of substantial gameplay. Verdict: Beyond:... Read the review »



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Comments

Little Writer Little Writer
Oct 14, 2013

Actually for me it was the other way around: that the main characters were played by real people helped me immerse myself more, the way I would with a movie. They were more recognizable to me and thus I felt more towards them. Great review though!

Geoff Kelly Geoff Kelly
Oct 14, 2013

The gameplay is what really holds this title back. What was there just wasn’t well thought through nor tested. The controls during the cover sequences were awful, many moves are poorly telegraphed, and the camera makes everything in general difficult. And the fact was it wasn’t just difficult to see how choices affected the story, they didn’t affect the story. I find a lot of peoples milage for the game varies depending on whether they experimented with choice, saw what choices led to. They found an incomplete game basically.

“Unlike in Heavy Rain, my failures didn’t seem to have any dramatic outcomes, and I missed that.” This is the crux of it. The game is nowhere near as dynamic as previous ones. I stood still in one particular chase scene… nothing happened. In one action scene, I responded to no QTE cues. Jodie literally fought for about an entire minute on her own still defeating people without my input. Eventually the scene changed slightly compared to what it would have been had I responded to the QTEs. But my problem was, it took all that time for the scene to change, if I had responded to any of the perhaps 20 QTEs that went by there wouldn’t have been a change. The game really tries to railroad and force you into one path, unlike the previous games which were better at creating the illusion of choice. Beyond is a house of cards that is much more unstable than previous Quantic Dreams games. Poke a little and the entire thing begins to collapse. The only time choice and action matters the game, it makes clear you know it. Throwing up some options you must choose to continue. Completely gone is the dynamism of Heavy Rain, replaced with a set of choices.

In fact the game makes serious efforts to make you play in a particular way. The easiest comparison is the scene at the beginning of Fahrenheit, if you have played that, cleaning up after a murder. You can choose to simply walk out the door doing nothing, and the game adapts to that choice. Try to do the same in Beyond and Jodie will pause at the door, “I think I am missing something”. If you force the issue you can (usually) leave, but the game obviously wants you to go back in and disable the security camera. I think this sort of stuff really ruins the experience. In Fahrenheit, you had an “oh damn I missed that” experience, and had to live with the consequences. If you miss anything in Beyond it is usually by choice.

The recent Wolf Among Us shows how this sort of simple gameplay is done right, it uses a similar QTE thing (much better than Jurassic Park thankfully). It even adds a touch more depth to it. Allowing for multipath conversations and items. Neither of which is in Beyond. Wolf allowed for a bit of role-playing in dialog choices, which I really appreciated. The only conversation choices in Beyond were questions, and you usually had to ask most of them anyway, completely removing any real reason to have them in the first place.

Also 20 hours? I would be interested in knowing how much you used Aiden. I finished the entire game in around 8 hours, even with experimentation with choice at certain points. However I used Aiden infrequently except for when he was required. So I can’t really see 20 hours unless you were using Aiden constantly to search for bonus material. Which goes to show just how much time that would take up, and why I didn’t do it. ;D.

Owskie
Oct 16, 2013

20 hours? Someone’s been taking drugs.



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