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.

[Insert obligatory Last of Us reference here]

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.

Later in the game, Jodie becomes Holmes-less. Get it?

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.

Final Score: 2/5


About Sam Hale

Autistic, young adult and lots on my mind.

Posted on October 17, 2013, in Reviews and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 4 Comments.

  1. “The performances of Page and Dafoe (and the technology that allows it) are the strongest aspects of Beyond.” That is what scares me about the new frontier of gaming. It’s one thing when a game has a good story, but when story and acting dominate gameplay to the point that all we can take away from it is the acting, then we have a problem.

    I liked Heavy Rain’s script for the most part, so I was surprised to see you said BTS was an upgrade. I may have to play this game if only because opinions are so scatter-shot that I’m lead to believe every copy contains a different game.

    • What I mean by stronger script is in the sense that there aren’t any wacky over-the-top side villains like Mad Jack, the crazy Doctor and Paco. Heavy Rain has stronger moments (like the Lizard Trial) but there are so many segments that have nothing to do with the main story (like Madison’s Nightmare chapter, or Jayden’s standoff with the religious nut). In a way, every chapter in Beyond contributes a little bit because it paints a bigger picture. That being said, the game only has a real plot towards the end of the game. For about 90% of the game there isn’t an individual protagonist, (you could argue that there isn’t one at all). Beyond it focused more on the characters than the plot.
      As for Page and Dafoe, they’re the strongest part of the game in the same way Dave Fennoy and Melissa Hutchinson (Lee and Clementine VAs) could the strongest aspect of the Walking Dead game.
      Beyond doesn’t have the of staying power of games like TWD nor does it even attempt to throw any hard choices at you. There’s no point in Beyond where I put down the controller and said “Shit, what do i do?” Even though Beyond isn’t technically a movie, the experience of playing it is identical to a movie. That doesn’t make it bad, but if you thought Heavy Rain wasn’t interactive enough than I advise you stay away from Beyond.

      • Heavy Rain was game-enough for me, so I’ll give BTS a look once the price drops.

        Walking Dead sounds interesting. I’ll admit I kind of tuned out to it since I heard it was based on a TV show (I assumed you’d have to be a fan of the show to enjoy it like with 24 The Game). Is TWD similar to Heavy Rain, or is there a thicker amount of gameplay?

  2. The Walking Dead game is actually based on the comic (which the show is also based on). It’s a point-and-click adventure game with some action segments sprinkled in. I HIGHLY RECOMMEND you play TWD (you don’t even need to watch the show as it has almost nothing to do with it). Only one thing, is that if you plan on watching the show the game does spoil a key feature of the universe (specifically how the zombies function). So if you are planning on watching the show soon, then hold off on the game.
    Most people I talk to agree that the video game is actually better than the show.
    It’s similar to Heavy Rain only in the sense that the game is more story-focused and there’s a lot of dialogue choices. However the story and characters in TWD are a thousands times better than practically every video game out there. I’m actually surprised you haven’t played it yet. Play it as soon as possible (just make sure it’s not the shitty first-person-shooter).

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