Definition of a Masterpiece: Ask Less, Demand More
"Beyond: Two Souls" is a game. Seems important to say that up front, as it's been said the game isn't so much a game as a movie trying to be a game. Some will want to argue this point, raising terms like player agency in order to critique what B:TS is doing. Truth be told, B:TS asks less of the player than other games in amount of button presses, but demands more from the player than other games. It's not because B:TS fails to be a game that it's being critiqued in some quarters, but because its demands are unwelcome.
How is B:TS demanding? It's not because I had to watch scenes and wanted to be playing them. At times, I was actually unaware it was "my turn" to play, due to stunning cutscenes, great acting, and a seamless game world lulling me into a viewer's zone. It wasn't demanding because the game was too slow, or too hard, or too long. It was demanding only in the way that B:TS asked me to feel.
Much like I'm asked to have good aim in a shooter game, in B:TS I was called upon to have emotions, and provide them often during the twelve-hour campaign. I had to respond to charged material, and feel something about it. If I were to have responded, "this is boring; I don't care," to a (fill in the spoiler action), then, like in a shooter game, I would've "missed my target" and blamed it on the game controls. For the game to work, B:TS demands that you feel. Not everyone turns to a video game to feel deep emotions, so it's fair to dislike a game that requires it of you. Of course, no gamer (or reviewer) will say "I couldn't feel emotions where I needed to."
B:TS conveys these emotions through some tumultuous story, but more directly through the somber, yearning face of Ellen Page. B:TS is Ellen Page's movie, they'd say if the game were a movie. Page evokes several eras of Jodie's life, through several costume changes, and makes Jodie believable, and ultimately as real as a video game character can be, on a current-gen system, in 2013. Ellen Page's body language comes through in every scene, adding unspoken words to her understated dialogue style. Video games are not great vehicles for showing human vulnerability, and in fact are quite oppositely-constructed for power-fantasy and revenge, but B:TS celebrates the innocence of Ellen Page's Jodie, giving way to hurt, resentment, and ... the player will see what comes next.
It was the stated intention of developer Quantic Dream to simplify the controls of B:TS, and despite complaints of the developer that have become meme-like in their repetitiveness, the game generally succeeds in making the action the focus. Of course, B:TS uses a so-called "quicktime-event" system to move Jodie through the game's world, which frankly it no better or worse than some other control systems. Pressing 'A' repeatedly in a platformer can get old too. Working within a realistic storytelling style, Quantic Dream invites you to create actions that are even meaningless (like drinking a cup of coffee) that give you a chance to embody Jodie a little more deeply. What Quantic Dream did, in simplifying the game's controls, did not in fact reduce my involvement. My investment in B:TS was not in a controller scheme, but in the characters. Ellen Page, Willem Defoe, and many other actors made me care about what was happening, not with thumbsticks and triggers, but with the tense, poignant events unfolding on my HDTV.
Saying I was invested in characters isn't to say the game is all talking, pondering, and walking from place to place. As can be seen in the game's trailer, Jodie and other characters fight, drive, ride, fire guns, fight a number of unsettling enemies, within an inch of their lives. Actions must be taken, quickly, and I found myself putting down the controller for a cutscene, only to snatch it up again and protect Jodie from the next adversary trying to snuff her out. The investment in characters only made me more focused to act.
For any gamer willing to venture into the still-uncharted territory of games evoking real human feelings, Beyond: Two Souls is a work of art, waiting to be discovered amid the hero-fantasy stories of other story-driven games. However, the emotional focus of B:TS could confuse, frustrate, or annoy a reserved player, much like Veteran, Hardcore, and Insane difficulties do to causal shooter fans.
Don't believe the fast dismissals you've heard, or the reasonable ones that suggest unmet expectations. Beyond: Two Souls is a fully-realized science-fiction story, meticulously-crafted for the fan of character-driven narrative. If B:TS signals the future of gaming, it's only because many of these fans are not yet playing video games. If you're one of them, don't wait to discover it later.