The Ninjabot

BEYOND: Two Souls Review – The Most Movie-Like Game You’ll Ever “Play”

Posted on October 9, 2013 at 7:15 pm by Amanda Andonian

Following the 15 year saga of Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page), Beyond: Two Souls is the story of a remarkable young girl and her mysterious friend, Aiden, an invisible being that somehow has psychic and telekinetic abilities. From a young age, Jodie is experimented on as the US government tries to ascertain what Aiden’s origins are, and she befriends researcher Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe) along the way. Her story takes her from childhood in a research facility to adulthood as a CIA agent, all the while trying to find out exactly who she is and why Aiden has always been with her.

For those unfamiliar with Quantic Dream, their last effort, Heavy Rain, was very similar to Beyond: Two Souls in terms of presenting a more cinematic rather than game-playing experience. They have no qualms about the fact that their games are meant to be as immersive as possible, more of an interactive movie than a game. Whether for good or ill, Beyond: Two Souls is exactly that.

Amazing Production Value, Crappy Story

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Beyond: Two Souls represents some of the most gorgeous game design I’ve ever seen on the PS3, including the character movement. It’s clear from the way that Jodie walks, talks, and interacts with her surroundings that a great deal of care was put into making Beyond: Two Souls feel as realistic as possible. Depending on the situation, Jodie’s movements change subtly to reflect her mood and environment, making it very much like watching a movie. There were times when I just wanted to wander around as Jodie, drinking in the scenery because it was just so beautiful.

At the same time, that level of detail is lacking from almost every other character. While Jodie is a fully realized (if petulant) person, everyone else feels remarkably one-note; and although there’s the framework of a truly interesting and engrossing story, much of the writing fell completely flat for me. It was clear that writer and director, David Cage, was trying to push Jodie in a very specific direction, so much so that every other character’s actions felt shoehorned in so as to move Jodie down that course.

One example that stood out to me in particular was Jodie’s romantic relationship with her CIA handler, Ryan. I couldn’t tell whether she was actually supposed to fall in love with him or not as their interactions were so awkward and lacking in any emotion whatsoever. I intentionally played it as though she were falling for him, and much to my surprise, he was actually falling in love with her too. Honestly, that was incredibly difficult to tell from the wooden writing and acting. It took Ryan actually saying, “I love you, Jodie,” to convince me that this romance was actually written in earnest.

Aside from some bizarre left turns (Navajo ranch, anyone?), Beyond: Two Souls has a pretty straightforward story that’s unnecessarily convoluted by being chopped up and presented completely out of order. Jumping back and forth between past and present, the story often pulls you out of the most interesting plot points and drops you back into banal everyday life, like Jodie playing with her Barbie dolls as a seven-year-old. It was sometimes so slow that I wished for a fast forward button. Aiden is really the only part of the story that I cared about, but we’re left hanging for so long that the final reveal at the end is almost anti-climatic. Almost.

To be perfectly honest, Aiden’s origin story really got to me. I really wished for more of his point of view, but due to his very nature, we never get a good look at who he is. Beyond his protectiveness towards Jodie, we never quite understand what he is and what motivates him. The ultimate explanation for Aiden’s presence and where he comes from doesn’t entirely make sense either, but it’s emotionally charged enough that I was willing to go along with it. In the end, it also makes for a pretty nice setup for a sequel if Quantic Dream wants to go in that direction, though I suspect that’s not their intention.

The “Gameplay”

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Quantic Dream makes much ado over the fact that you’re not supposed to feel like you’re playing a game with Beyond: Two Souls, and the mechanics were carefully crafted so that you forget you’re holding a controller in your hands. Depending on what you’re looking for when you turn on your system, this may be a blessing or a curse.

In terms of the dreaded Quick Time Events, Beyond: Two Souls is definitely much less invasive than many games that utilize QTEs. At the same time, I felt that I was severely limited in my options. There are only so many objects that Jodie and Aiden can interact with, and it was in those moments that I could feel how much on rails the game truly is. Although you’re given the semblance of agency, you really don’t have many choices in terms of guiding the action and story. You do this so that you can get to that, and then this happens. Point A to point B, and done.

The one bright part of playing, though, is every time you get to control Aiden. By far the most interesting character in the game (even more so than Jodie in my opinion), Aiden is completely unencumbered by physicality, thus giving you far more freedom to float around, explore, and experiment with his powers. Unfortunately, you’re limited by proximity to Jodie (he can only move so far away from her before they both start to feel pain), and he can only move or make contact with certain objects, which are marked by a glowing blue dot. It could be frustrating at times trying to figure out which objects in the room I needed to interact with to move the story along, but they were never impossible to find.

Final Thoughts

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While the graphics and underlying story make for a great movie-going experience, Beyond: Two Souls doesn’t provide much in the way of gameplay. As much as I love games that include an immersive story, I also want to feel like I’m actually playing a game. Too often, I found myself feeling impatient with Beyond: Two Souls, wondering when it would start to pick up and actually plunge me into some action. Because of that, it’s definitely not a game that you’d want to play more than once, though I don’t think Quantic Dream necessarily wants players to do that anyway.

Beyond: Two Souls has a very clear agenda, and it doesn’t let you deviate from that agenda in the least. It gives you the illusion of options in terms of Jodie’s choices and how she reacts to situations, eventually just bringing you to the same place at the end. Of course, all that could be forgiven with a sufficiently engaging story, but too many of the more interesting plot points are continually shunted off in favor of following Jodie to the ends of the Earth, and the writing was terribly clunky when you get down to it. I think I would have preferred Beyond: Two Souls as an actual movie, or even a book, but not necessarily a game.

Presentation: 10

Gameplay: 5

Replay Value: 3.5

LEGACY SCORE: 6.2

Geek Legacy’s review scores are on a scale of 1-10, with 10 being the highest possible score.

You can follow Amanda on Twitter at @reiko516.

    • jxcavender

      Well that’s unfortunate. I know you were pretty excited about its release. Heavy Rain drove me to crazy town and left me for dead. There was no way I could play this game.

      • Yeah, you’d hate this one even more than Heavy Rain. It’s not that I had huge expectations for BEYOND, but I definitely was expecting to get a little more out of it than I did.

        Mostly, though, it was the writing that got to me. There were several plot developments that just put me on edge, and it made the overall game feel disjointed and unfocused, which is kind of ironic since they’re very clearly pushing you down a particular path for the entire game.

    • fake_brasilian

      I find it interesting that I reviewed The Wolf Among Us and you did BEYOND, and I would be really interested in hearing your opinion on Telltales’ game. To quote you: ” As much as I love games that include an immersive story, I also want to feel like I’m actually playing a game.”

      Because The Wolf Among Us I would say has so little in terms of gameplay that it’s negligible, and it has a very immersive story.

      Great review though! Makes me really hesitate in playing it.

      • The Wolf Among us is a much shorter game though, right? I kind of feel like BEYOND is not quite worth $60. I’d recommend waiting a few months for the price to drop, and then grab it when it goes on sale during the Christmas season.

        • fake_brasilian

          TWAU is 2 hours per episode, but I can forgive a game for being short if it’s entertaining. Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy was entertaining until their respective final few levels, then it was a slog. Telltale Games recently feel like that friend you always meant to hang out with, and the brief times you meet at the grocery store are always awesome. Quantic Dreams is that friend you meet sometimes at the grocery store that is great to talk to until about the tail-end of the conversation when it asks if you want to hang out at a gathering of robed men talking about Mayan Robots, then you wonder why you were ever friends in the first place.

          But yea I found a friend willing to let me borrow it. Sooner or later it’ll be played.

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