Beyond: Two Souls Review
Even in it’s greatest moments (which there are many), Beyond: Two Souls is closer to a movie than an interactive experience. This game has mostly polarized critics since its release on Oct. 8. It has been a great struggle to determine the quality of this game. Much of the criticisms have been aimed at Beyond’s lack of interactivity. Three years ago this criticism was shared by Heavy Rain, developer Quantic Dream’s previous game, which oddly enough seems much more interactive in comparison.
Beyond stars Hollywood actress Ellen Page and actor Wilem Dafoe. When I say star I mean that in the full sense of the word. The facial expressions, in addition to the voice acting of Page and Dafoe (among the rest of the cast) are completely digitized through motion capture technology. The performances of Page and Dafoe (and the technology that allows it) are the strongest aspects of Beyond. The subtle facial movements, the emotional range and delivery saves what is otherwise a sub-par script. This script itself is an improvement over Heavy Rain, the side characters are less over-the-top (with a few exceptions) and those horrible child actors are nowhere to be seen.
Page plays Jodie Holmes, a young woman who is connected to a mute, spiritual entity named Aiden. Each of the 26 chapters glimpse into Jodie’s life across a 14-year timeline; the narrative is told out-of-order to keep the story fresh. While the disconnected narrative shows the player the bigger picture rather than tell it, some of the earlier scenes suffer from this approach. For example a lengthy chase scene early in the story occurs without any context thus failing to leave a lasting impression. Very few of the chapters are connected and it takes some time for the player to piece the story together.
Some of the best chapters in the game are also the longest (some clock in at 40 minutes). Each of these longer segments has a beginning, a middle and an end which is what makes them appealing. They tell a smaller story within the bigger picture. One scene depicts a homeless Jodie on Christmas Eve begging for change in the snow-filled streets. It allows to the player to taste the desperation of a homeless person and since there are few cities without poverty, this segment will hit close to home for some players.
There are plenty of human moments that show the player how Jodie’s connection to Aiden has affected her life. A flaw in the story is Jodie’s character arc isn’t fully realized. She undeniably changes throughout the story but the player only ever sees her development in stages, and not the actual moment where her character evolves.
Like it’s predecessors, Beyond features multiple endings but very few of the player’s decisions have any relevance. The consequences of the player’s choices are always felt in the same chapter that they are made. The gameplay is heavily focused on quick-time events, now entirely controlled with the right stick. It’s watered down to say the least. Certain segments allow the player to take full control of Aiden, explore the area and make use of his psychic abilities. It’ll quickly become apparent, however, that there’s little do outside of what’s required to progress the scene. Most of the time, control of Aiden is held out of reach with little explanation.
Video Game Director David Cage has previously challenged the line between a movie and a game, however his latest work crosses that line rather than pushes it. It’s almost as if the gameplay was added to merely fulfill the requirements of being considered a game. Beyond is an interactive experience with little interactivity. The story and performances make this game worth playing, just keep in mind that it’ll feel more like watching than actually playing.