Review: Beyond: Two Souls (2013)

Beyond: Two Souls is a breathtakingly cinematic gaming experience that unfortunately falls flat when losing sight of its core story.

At its core, Beyond: Two Souls is one of the most breathtakingly cinematic gaming experiences you’ll ever play in your entire life. The outside layer however, sadly, isn’t the same and its where the potential to be so much more is left to rot.

In Beyond: Two Souls, the player lives the life of Jodie Holmes, a young woman who possess supernatural powers through her psychic link to a mysterious invisible entity. We follow her journey through life as an adorable little girl to an adolescent teenager just longing for normal life like the rest of the girls her age.

It’s here where Beyond excels the most. The player is engrossed in the story of a girl who posses supernatural powers and who is haunted by visions of the dead. This is what the game is all about – death, entities and life. But after a while it seems to slide downhill and becomes something it’s not. When the story starts getting into the CIA and monsters and ghouls in the desert, that’s when you instantly become disconnected with the game. Throughout the game, you’ll hear Jodie say lines like “What’s this got to do with me?”. And I couldn’t agree more.

It seems that David Cage wrote himself into a corner with the script. If this was a 90 minute movie that just focused on its core story of a girl with this troubled life then I bet good money that it would have been nominated for any number of Oscars, Baftas and Golden Globes. But because this is a video game, the story gets affected by having to create more scenarios, more scenes, more adventure so that the gamer doesn’t feel cheapened by a 2 hour game that featured little action or adventure because without those actions scenes, that’s all this story is, a girl with a troubled life – is that a bad purpose for a video game? Certainly not, but I’m sure the developers wanted to appeal to a much more broader demographic and that’s why these actions scenes and settings have been written into the story.

In Quantic Dream’s previous game, Heavy Rain, it was so simple – a Father desperately tries to find his son after being kidnapped by a serial killer. In Heavy Rain it never once deviated away from its core story, it always remained true to the story it was trying to tell. Every character and every scene was important to your adventure through the game.

Beyond doesn’t do that. It never remains true to what the game really is all about. I enjoyed the moments when I got to control Jodie as she tried to fit in with the others or controlling the entity she lives with. Whichever character I was controlling, I was enthralled with that characters. To then go from that to being in the desert with monsters and ghouls or helping the CIA remove a brutal dictator, it just took away from me that enjoyable experience I was just having.

The sights and sounds of Beyond: Two Souls make it an amazing cinematic experience

The action is there just to be there – it doesn’t serve a purpose even though they try and make you think that it does actually serve a purpose. I didn’t care about how these monsters and ghouls got here in the desert or about some random guy who the CIA wanted killed. I just cared about Jodie’s life story. I cared for Jodie, both young and old.

That being said, the ending isn’t cheapened. You get the ending you hoped for, it stays true to the game’s core story and eventually brings you around to piece everything together. You learn who Jodie really is, why she is the way she is, how she got here, etc. Everything is answered and you’re left happy to having known just who this girl is. But, had it stayed on track to the core story through the entire game and not gone off on several random tangents, Beyond would definitely been another strong opponent to The Last of Us and Grand Theft Auto V for Game of the Year.

Performances are through the roof with Ellen Page not just delivering a great performance but probably the most amazing performance she’s ever given in her career, including film. Her raw energy and emotion is hard to not connect with. I was constantly riveted and engrossed by Jodie, both young and old. I felt for her as she tried to just be a normal kid and as she seeked answers. Ellen’s performance is a powerhouse and personally I believe deserves to win at least one Best Actress of the year because never I have been more engrossed in any video game character than I was with Jodie.

Beyond: Two Souls - Willem Dafoe
Both Willem Dafoe’s and Ellen Page’s performance are through the roof.

Willem Dafoe too brings down the house with his performance as Nathan Dawkins. At the beginning you really don’t feel anything for Nathan, however as the story progresses and you find out more of Nathan’s life you too begin to connect with him. It’s during the closing moments of Beyond where Dafoe’s performance really reaches its pinnacle. I sensed his desperation, his emotion, his insanity.

Of course with this game being a Quantic Dream game, you get to shape out how your adventure progresses as the decisions you choose alter your story each individual way. Quantic Dream’s way of doing this is second to none, never do you just choose an option to progress, you sit there really considering which option to pick, whether its the right one or not.

My favourite moments from Heavy Rain included the fight scenes – they were intense, energetic, fast-paced, I enjoyed them so much. However, I couldn’t say the same for Beyond. In Heavy Rain, whilst fighting, a square box would pop up and tell you to push your analogue whichever way was the right way. In Beyond, this has changed slightly as in the beginning you are taught to move whichever way it is the character is moving. The screen would slow down and if Jodie was leaning to the right, then you would move the analogue stick to the right and she would move out the way of her attacker.

To a certain extend, I understand why the developers decided to go this way, it’s a good use of the players hand-eye co-ordination. However, sometimes it’s hard to judge which way you should be going, which way Jodie is leaning. After failing to move the correct way you’ll be constantly beaten by your attacker to the point where you don’t care about your hand-eye co-ordination, you just become increasingly annoyed and upset that you keep failing. Sometimes it’s incredibly hard to judge which way she is going as the camera would also lead you to believe one way was the right way when in fact the other way was correct.

Another problem with the controls is the fact that I was unable to fully control my character. I could make her turn, move and reach for things but I wasn’t able to control how quickly she move or where my camera moved to. Sometimes I felt like I barely had any control over her. Whilst I understand this is the way Quantic Dream makes their games, I feel this needs to be changed. I want to have that freedom to control where my character goes, how fast, how slow or where my camera can move.

For example, when I’m controlling Jodie as she tries to escape a fire, I have to go upstairs to escape, however I don’t have the ability to run. Instead I am forced to walk at a slow pace up the stairs. I’m pretty sure anyone who is escaping a fire would be running for their lives. I feel a little more control to the player is definitely a necessity for future Quantic games.

Whilst its story mode is great in the fact that you get to replay the story endless amounts of times and explore your other options thanks to the game’s numerous different endings, there isn’t a lot of other features. Whilst some DLC for the game has been released since its launch, it’s not something that really adds anything to the whole experience. You could play it probably 2 different times, get 2 different endings but after that, you won’t be motivated to put it back in the disk drive any time soon.

All in all, I feel that Beyond is definitely a must play. All its flaws set aside, the game is still breathtakingly cinematic with an incredible amount of detail and work gone into the environments and characters. Had Beyond: Two Souls remained true to what it’s really about, then we could’ve been looking at one of the most amazing stories you’ll ever experience in video game history, but sadly it was not to be.

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