Beyond Two Souls First Impressions
If there’s anything I can say about Beyond: Two Souls so far is that it’s been completely unpredictable in terms of quality. Quantic Dream’s supernatural thriller (which hit stores last Tuesday) centers around Jodie Holmes, played by Ellen Page, who is connected to a spiritual entity known only as Aiden. Beyond also stars Willem Dafoe as Nathan Hawkins, who acts as Jodie’s caretaker. The game’s story spans across 14 years and jumps around the timeline. In one chapter, Jodie is a small child in the next she’s a adult on the run from the police. The first few chapters indicated that this game had a fractured narrative and little momentum, however the following chapters have been quite powerful. It’s almost impossible to predict what the rest of the game will be like.
The gameplay of Beyond is essentially a stripped down combination of earlier Quantic Dream games. Beyond doesn’t feature conventional gameplay but instead the action is controlled almost entirely through quick-time events. Instead of an on-screen prompt, the game slows down for a moment, requiring the player to move the right stick in a direction appropriate to the action. For example, moving the right stick up to hop over a log. Much like in Heavy Rain, passing the QTEs is not required to progress through the game.
The other aspect of Beyond’s gameplay is controlling Aiden, the aforementioned spiritual entity. At the press of a button, the player shifts to Aiden’s control, who can float through walls, perform telekinetic and even psychic abilities. Many of the action sequences switch between Aiden and Jodie automatically. Unfortunately Aiden’s implementation is much like a parent holding a toy above a child’s head, only allowing it to be in reach at certain moments. It’s a shame because if Beyond was a more conventional game, the idea of controlling a disembodied spirit would have a lot of potential.
An immediate issue with the fragmented style of storytelling in Beyond is that it kills the momentum between scenes. The chapters are all disconnected from each other and while this keeps the story fresh it ultimately means that every scene is starting at zero and working its way from there. The reason Beyond is so hard to assess is because it has to be measured on the strengths and weaknesses of each chapter. The strongest moments so far have been the chapters that go on for the longest and are less action-focused. For example one action-heavy chapter is entirely dedicated to Jodie running from the police, it occurs with little context and isn’t very exciting. However an earlier chapter which depicts a birthday party gone wrong is much more effective. The more mundane moments are the most powerful because it shows how Jodie’s connection to Aiden prevents her from having a normal life. The perils of a young woman trying to fit in are more identifiable than being a fugitive on the run from the police.
The performances of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are undeniably the strongest aspect of Beyond. They are, in a word, outstanding. Continuing from the graphical fidelity of Heavy Rain, Page and Dafoe’s performances are fully facially captured; this is the best use of facial capture in a video game since L.A. Noire. Willem Dafoe in particular stands out (not to discredit Ellen Page); Dafoe has been excellent in every scene he’s been in so far. Page and Dafoe also have excellent chemistry; these are two professional actors and it shows. Much of Jodie and Nathan’s relationship has been implied and not stated; Beyond is an excellent example of the rule: Show don’t tell. It also helps that the supporting characters are stronger than in earlier Quantic Dream games. The cackling maniacs of Heavy Rain have yet to be seen here.
A few hours into Beyond: Two Souls, it’s been mostly inconclusive. At it’s absolute best, it’s been comparable to moments in the Walking Dead game, but at it’s worst it’s almost comparable to Call of Duty. I can’t say at this point whether I can recommend the game, I’ll have a more definitive opinion in next week’s review. Overall, it’s been a good game so far, but not a great one, it could go either way at this point.