Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)
Developed by Quantic Dream – Published by SCE
Beyond: Two Souls is a bit of a conundrum. The game boasts impressive narrative and visual prowess, but melded with the usual, at times, frustrating flaws that accompany every Quantic Dream game. Is this David Cage’s newest chef-d’oeuvre, or has Quantic Dream once again managed to alienate gamers disinterested in what Cage dubs “Interactive fiction”?
It is nearly impossible to refrain from comparing Beyond: Two Souls with its predecessor, Heavy Rain. The key difference between these two games, is that Beyond is a much more linear game in every aspect of the word. The number of playable characters has been cut down to just two characters, who, due to their nature, are unable to be separated. Much of the choice players experienced while playing Heavy Rain is gone, even over the minor things such as camera angle and interaction with objects in the environment. Being able to interact with something means that it almost certainly pertains to the advancement of the plot. This restricted feeling pervades the entire course of the game, but ultimately allows for a more precise narrative.
In terms of actual gameplay, Heavy Rain players should feel right at home playing as Jodie, the main protagonist of the game. She slowly ambles about the environment just like anyone from Heavy Rain, using the analog stick for movement and interaction. Generally though, Jodie will have a single path to follow without even allowing for the slightest variation. Aside from a few key points, being presented with multiple options simple means slightly different means to an identical end. You aren’t even allowed to fail, simply putting the controller down during an altercation with result in the same turn of events as having successfully completed every QTE sequence.
That brings us to our other controllable character, Aiden, the other “Soul” in a much more literal sense. He is an invisible spirit that players control from a first person perspective, using his power to cause trouble or assist Jodie. At first it may seem that this would allow for a bit of a break from the limitations set on Jodie, but don’t be fooled. Despite Aiden possessing a vast array of powers, you may only use them when David Cage says you can, in the exact time and manner that the story dictates. Towards the end of the game you are given a bit more freedom in how you go about using these powers, but it’s too little too late. It’s a bit off-putting when looking back on Heavy Rain’s allowance of doing the most menial tasks for little to no reason.
You may not enjoy the way Quantic Dream games play, but it is impossible to deny that their games are absolutely stunning. Every environment in the game is lovingly crafted to provide the perfect atmosphere for the scene playing out in it. Character models are especially well rendered, which should come to no surprise given that it’s Quantic Dream’s forte, but is nevertheless very impressive. These hyper-realistic renders allow Ellen Paige and Willem Dafoe, the acting heavyweights of the game, to exercise their incredible talent. This narrative powerhouse is largely possible because of it’s overbearing linearity. The whole game is rendered in the cinema scope aspect ratio, evidence to Cage trying to make it more cinematic, meaning you will be staring at two black bars bordering your game at all times. This quickly became forgotten however, with the lack of camera control being much more noticeable. Being unable to manipulate the camera allows Cage to capture those “perfect shots” without the player “disrupting” the flow of the narrative.
Not being able to control the story, the camera or even minor tasks may bring into question whether this truly is a game, or just a really long animated film with superficial player interaction. A case could be made for either, but is that really such a bad thing?
The narrative is the game’s strong point, as it should be given the dire circumstance of the gameplay mechanics. Ironically, the story is as non-linear as it gets, jumping backward and forward in Jodie’s life, at times for almost no describable reason. The juxtaposition of playing Jodie as a child, then as Jodie in her twenties and then as a teen in the span of a few chapters allows for a unique buildup of Jodies character. Rather than building her up from the start, bits of her character are filled in, piece by piece, as the story progresses. This also allows us glimpses of others at various points in her life and how they’ve changed alongside Jodie. The approach may not be original but showcases an entirely sui generis execution.
The game’s heavy focus on supernatural elements can also be a bit off-putting at times, occasionally bordering on the ridiculous. Not surprisingly, the best moments of the game were the scenes with no paranormal elements (Aiden aside), that focused solely on the relationships and personalities of the numerous characters that appeared throughout the story. One of my favourite chapters in the game, titled Homeless, has you wandering the snowy streets until you collapse from exhaustion. You’re then taken in by a group of homeless people and are nursed back to health, you then return the favour in their time of need. The raw human emotion and feeling felt while playing this particular chapter exacerbates how well Cage is at eliciting strong emotions, that is, when he’s not too busy trying to make smoke monsters seem less ridiculous.
This review may have come off as overly negative, but personally I enjoyed Beyond: Two Souls, though not nearly as much as Heavy Rain. This is a Quantic Dream game after all, and those looking for anything else will leave sorely disappointed. Those who are prepared for the faults that are part of the David Cage gaming philosophy will leave satisfied. Beyond: Two Souls is a gaming train wreck, but a beautiful, engaging, innovative and wholly enjoyable narrative tour de force.