Beyond: Two Souls Review – Flawed but Riveting

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Quantic Dream haven’t been shy of creating bold titles that have attempted to push game narratives in interesting ways. While mostly being devoid of traditional gameplay, the interactive drama genre that their games belong to, aims to titillate the emotional faculties of player by providing compelling story-driven experiences.

Games like Omikron: The Nomad Soul, Fahrenheit, and Heavy Rain have all followed the same formula, and while they may not be extremely popular, there’s a dedicated fanbase that demands and loves these sort of games.

Following the success of Heavy Rain on the PS3, the studio has gone one step further with Beyond: Two Souls–roping in talented Hollywood actors like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. Page is the star of the game and plays the role of Jodie Holmes, a girl bound together with a supernatural entity called Aiden.

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You watch Jodie grow from a little girl to a beautiful woman mostly in a curated environment, hopefully garnering enough attachment towards her to decide her fate at the end of the game.

How did Jodie get these powers? What makes her a special child? All this is explained as you progress through the 8-9 hour main story mode. Ever since she was born, she has been subject to numerous experiments by the TPA; led by Dr Richard Dawkins (Willem Dafoe). Dawkins’ personality is quite subdued early on in the game as he acts like a fatherly figure to Jodie. If you’ve watched the numerous movies featuring Dafoe, you can get a basic idea of what to expect from his character in the game.

The game starts out really slow as you partake in Jodie’s day to day activities, and honestly it’s the sort of thing I dislike doing in a video game because developers can never get it quite right and make it interesting. The scenes in Beyond offer a bunch of choices and give you some time to choose the appropriate method you wish to go with.

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As you learn more about Jodie, the game expands a bit and tries to tackle the topic of what happens after a person dies. The souls of people who have died are located in the Infraworld and when an entity from that world spills forth into the world of the living, undesirable things happen.

There are certain elements in the game like the CIA that are trying to open a link between the two worlds by creating a condenser that allows them to do that. The technology is still in a nascent stage and requires a lot of time and investment. Here’s where Jodie’s unique powers come in handy as she is recruited by the CIA and undergoes military training to do jobs for them.

The CIA missions, while fun, also felt really contrived and shoehorned in the game. However, these missions help Jodie grow as a human being and understand the type of people that exist around her. There will be a lot of twists and other moments that will keep you on the edge of your seat as you keep playing the game.

Jodie by herself can be pretty vulnerable and that’s where Aiden comes in to help her out of terrible situations. Being an entity, its powers are limited to just opening doors, disrupting the environment and possessing people. Jodie’s relationship with Aiden is explored further as you keep playing the game.

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David Cage’s writing is definitely a step up from his work in Heavy Rain, but I found it to be really simplistic here. Beyond showcases the skills of the actors playing Jodie and Dawkins and certain scenes were so realistic that it showed how far video games have evolved.

There’s a cinematic flair to the game as evident by the black bars on top and bottom. The character models are highly detailed and the visuals do not disappoint. There were a few awkward facial expressions displayed by a few characters but considering the PS3 is 7 years old, I shouldn’t really be complaining about that.

Being an AAA extravaganza, the soundtrack by Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe does not disappoint. The music complements the scenes being shown on the screen and in some certain situations can also depress you a lot. It’s that sort of game where the supporting characters are disposable depending on your choices which makes the whole thing really unpredictable.

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It’s a game where player interaction is minimal and is done via the implementation of QTEs. You are playing a Quantic Dream game after all. Thankfully, there are less QTEs here compared to, say, Heavy Rain.

During combat, slow motion scenes are initiated and you can select a direction depending on what is shown on the screen to allow Jodie to attack, counter or dodge. This will take some getting used to and I found the whole thing to be really unnecessary and in some situations, it did its best to disconnect me from the experience.

Cage hasn’t gone overboard with the story in this game and this is evident by the simplistic nature of the writing. Unlike Heavy Rain and its plot holes, Beyond’s ending does a good job in tying up all the loose ends and also gives you a bunch of options to choose from. The ending makes you reminisce your journey controlling Jodie in the game and influences your final decision, which can be termed as a triumph in storytelling.

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Beyond: Two Souls is what you expect from a David Cage game. It has bold themes, crazy twists, cinematic flair, and the pacing is all over the place. While I won’t lament over the fact that the gameplay is severely lacking, the slow motion QTEs doesn’t suit the game and shouldn’t have been included. It did nothing other than being a major annoyance and causing a distraction.

People who love interactive drama and stories filled with suspense will enjoy Beyond: Two Souls. Ellen Page has performed the character of Jodie Holmes exceptionally well and she brings oodles of quality to the game. There’s not much replyability here, however, you can play all the scenes again and try out the different choices.

It’s still a one playthrough experience and heavily story-driven, but after I finished the game there was a feeling of satisfaction present, and ultimately that’s all I ask from a video game.