Reviews

Review: Beyond: Two Souls (PS3)

The latest adventure from Quantic Dream takes us into the spirit-realm and beyond, but not even the talents of Ellen Page (Inception, Juno, X-Men) and Willem Dafoe (Spider-Man, The Boondock Saints, Antichrist) can save the coming-of-age tale that is Beyond: Two Souls.

Beyond: Two Souls
Score: 5.5/10
Release Date: 10/8/2013 (USA)
Platform: PS3
Developed by Quantic Dream
Published by Sony Computer Entertainment

Beyond: Two Souls is the next game to emerge from studio Quantic Dream and the mind of David Cage: Its genesis is somewhat unique, and rather questionable, as the story originated from what was essentially an Ellen Page fan-fiction by David Cage…It shows, as Beyond tends to come across as a CGI Ellen Page film.

Beyond follows the life story of Jodie (Page) as she copes with the reality of having an additional, sentient soul- Aiden- tethered to her own. Throughout her life, Jodie will develop a bond with Aiden, via the mentoring of Dr. Nathan Hawkens (Willem Dafoe), allowing for the two to perform various supernatural tasks; possession, manipulation- Aiden will even be used for espionage purposes. While it sounds promising in writing, the actual story plays out in an unorganized manner, potentially detaching the player from the experience: Progression in Beyond is chapter-based, with each chapter featuring a different experience from Jodie’s life; with very few exceptions, there’s no continuity between segments, as progression takes the player back and forth between Jodie’s childhood and adulthood without warning. Chapters are tracked on a timeline shown during loading screens; even after events begin to chronologically link, there’s little explanation on how Jodie has gone from the last Chapter to the current one.

Several characters, Jodie included, switch personalities without reasoning between chapters; additional information about personal motives or experiences might have justified this, but once again the broken nature of the presentation negates the potential for that possibility: The relationship of Jodie and Aiden constantly bounces between hostility and companionship; Ryan and Jodie are at war with each other during some Chapters, and are potential lovers during others- the outcome of their relationship is based on the “illusion” of player-choice; the only “static” characters who stay in character throughout most of the game are researchers Cole Freeman and Nathan Hawkins. Jodie will help several outside characters on her journey, including a community of homeless individuals and Native American residents of a secluded ranch, but outside of their own respective Chapters, they are of no importance, and are only referenced again towards late-game. Apart from the obvious character flaws, Beyond: Two Souls does manage to nail some key connections between characters, such as Aiden’s hatred for Jodie’s father, and Nathan acting as a loving father-figure.

While Beyond offers a wide plethora of gameplay elements across its 11-13hr Story, the main mechanics can be compared to a stripped-down variation of Heavy Rain: Most actions boil down to quick-time events, and directional inputs indicated by white dots that will appear around Jodie- to interact with an object with a white dot overhead, the player will need to move the right thumb-stick in correlation to Jodie (i.e. if the dot is on Jodie’s left, push the Right-Stick “left”). Players will often encounter a new mechanic where gameplay will slow down, and the player must push the right thumb-stick in the direction that Jodie is moving; while this is a very unique addition to the game, some players may find these moments to be frustrating, with an inconsistent margin-of-error and seldom movements that can be difficult to decipher. Elements from the Stealth genre are also present in Beyond, but players who appreciate the Stealth genre shouldn’t become too excited, as these cover-to-cover sneaking, infiltration and take-down moments are amazingly rare; outside of these, there are other instances of vehicular and horse-controlling, however both will only occur in their assigned Chapters. Basic movement is bothersome; between a slight delay between input and character movement, and locked pacing set by the game, players may find that Jodie controls more like a tread-less tank, than a human-being. While Jodie’s controls can be irritating at times, especially when she becomes stuck on environmental geometry, this does however create a strong emphasis on just how different Jodie and Aiden are, apart from being a human and a tethered soul: Jodie is “heavy” and confined to the pacing of the game; Aiden is quick, capable of traversing through solid objects, and can move anywhere in the immediate area so long as it’s within the distance of Jodie’s connection- this will vary based on certain conditions within each Chapter.

As previously mentioned, Aiden has free movement so long as it’s within a certain distance from Jodie; he can also pass through ceilings, walls and floors. Most “puzzles” are solved with the help of Aiden, as he can possess and choke characters indicated by orange and red auras. Aiden can also manipulate objects, and allow Jodie to communicate with the dead by briefly reliving their last moments; in select instances, the dead will also talk through Jodie. The concept of Aiden is a very unique and entertaining twist on puzzle-solving, but as a character, he falls into the same situation as most others in Beyond, where their personality switches freely without reasoning between Chapters.

Just like previous Quantic Dream titles Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy, there’s an internal promise of player-choice greatly impacting the outcome of following events: Certain events, such as chase sequences, can be “failed”, which might result in an additional cutscene, unavailable to those who succeeded during that moment; despite having one or two varying scenes, or extended gameplay, most events close with the same ending. The game almost forces players to develop a romantic interest between certain individuals and Jodie; players can either refuse or accept advances from those individuals, but any of those choices become irrelevant later on in the game, due to an overriding choice that players will have to make.

Beyond: Two Souls is certainly a beautiful game- possibly one of the most detailed PS3 titles to-date, but it’s marred with poor character development, heavy controls, and a convoluted story that may leave players discombobulated. Those who were looking towards Beyond as a worthy successor to Heavy Rain should probably just stick with Heavy Rain for now, but at the very least, there’s plenty of Ellen Page fan-service for those who are into that sort of thing.

Images courtesy of Quantic Dream

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