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Beyond: Two Souls Review

3
  • PS3

It's guilty of both overbearing goofiness and unearned self-seriousness, yet Beyond: Two Souls is still easily Quantic Dream's most fully-realized game to date.

David Cage has gone and made his game again.

Meet Jodie Holmes. Jodie has a ghost friend named Aiden. It causes her some problems.

If you've played either Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain, you know precisely what that means. Beyond: Two Souls is a great deal like those two games in terms of mechanics and design ideals. Cage and his team at Quantic Dream have dedicated themselves to a laserlike focus on melding cinematic storytelling with the interactivity of video games, and Beyond is perhaps the best realized version of those ideals and mechanics. In Beyond, Cage has developed a game that shows far greater production value, offers significantly better acting talent, and tells a far more coherent story than anything his studio has tried previously. And yet your enjoyment of Beyond will once again depend entirely on how willing you are to get behind what a David Cage game unwaveringly is, not to mention how willing you are to forgive some frequently hokey, and downright maddening plot nonsense.

The Two Souls part of Beyond's title refers to the dual entities you control throughout the game. Primarily, you're in control of Jodie (Ellen Page), a woman born with an equally exceptional and unfortunate gift. She possesses an attachment to an unknown spirit she refers to as Aiden. Aiden's existence is, for many years, inexplicable to her. She was born with this spirit tethered to her, and in limited capacities, she can make Aiden perform specific tasks. By and large though, Aiden is an enigma to her and everyone around her, which makes her existence both enticing and worrisome to the various forces that take an interest.

Beyond takes place over the course of 15 years of Jodie's life. The events unfold in nonlinear fashion, darting wildly between the trials of her early childhood, to the many years she spent in relative confinement in a government lab, as well as the years she spent both working as an operative for the CIA, and running from the agency as a fugitive. Jumping from time period to time period isn't quite as confusing as it might sound. Cage's script is mindful about how it metes information out over time, establishing characters and situations with a (mostly) light touch. Cage actually does a pretty good job of making Jodie's character development feel at least somewhat organic, considering the bizarre situations she's thrust into over the course of the game.

And let me tell you, some of that stuff is completely, utterly insane. It's hard to know where to start when trying to pinpoint where the line between the acceptably ridiculous and the nonsensically ridiculous exists for Beyond: Two Souls. This is, after all, a game about a girl and her ghost who spend years under the care of a division of the government expressly designed for paranormal investigation, find themselves recruited into the CIA for black ops missions (that require ghost powers to execute, of course), and then go on the run all David Banner-style, hunted by both the government and various other entities that come from "the other side" (which the game refers to as the "Infraworld"). In between all of that, Jodie scares off her adoptive parents, befriends the obsessive scientist assigned to her case (Willem Dafoe) and his assistant (Kadeem Hardison), ruins a birthday party, fights off would-be rapists, learns close-quarters combat, assassinates foreign targets, kills a lot of cops, lives with homeless people, falls into a coma, gets mixed up in the supernatural happenings around a Navajo family's ranch, goes to fake China for a while, sort-of falls in love a couple of times, and eventually discovers the truth about herself and Aiden while saving us from our own self-created destruction.

Cage's script takes Jodie to some pretty bizarre places, and not always to the story's benefit.

All that over the course of maybe 10-to-12 hours. Suffice it to say, Beyond tries to cover a lot of ground, and sometimes falls into deeply silly territory while trying to maintain some semblance of storytelling balance. Cage's writing has been the subject of much derision in the past, and Beyond has more than its share of laughable dialogue and painfully underdeveloped story situations. Every chapter has its own unique story element, but some feel more out of place than simply unique. And though the ending is less risible than the sort of nonsense that concluded previous Quantic Dream games, the last few chapters try to wring a lot of drama out of not much build-up, resulting in a series of available endings that don't all feel entirely earned.

And yet, despite all this, Beyond works considerably better than any Quantic Dream game I've played to date. The singular focus on Jodie and Aiden's trials and tribulations benefits the admittedly bizarre story the game is trying to tell. Sometimes that focus betrays the game's attempts at conflict--what few villain characters do rear their head are mostly undeveloped, throwaway baddies who fail to leave much of an impression--but more often it helps ground the story in something at least vaguely resembling an identifiable reality. If you're able to just kind of roll with all the crazy ghost stuff, the shadowy government happenings, and the game's nebulously defined concept of the spirit realm, Beyond actually works, mostly by virtue of how well the interactions between its individual characters play out.

The performances are a huge part of why that's the case. Beyond marks the first time Quantic Dream has gone for full performance capture in one of its games, meaning that the actors who play these characters actually acted out each scene in a studio, versus having their characters' movements animated by Quantic Dream by hand. The result, especially in the realm of facial capture, is genuinely impressive. Characters are expressive, nuanced, and just shy of that uncanny valley of creepiness. Body movements, especially when two characters are touching one another, are more hit-or-miss, with some sequences (especially anything particularly romantic) falling uncomfortably flat. Still, the vocal performances from the entire cast are terrific, especially Page, Dafoe and Hardison, who each bring far more humanity to their characters than any of the actors Quantic Dream has employed before. Page is especially good, primarily given the amount of clumsy, cliched dialogue she's forced to shout throughout the game. She keeps you interested in Jodie's plight even when the game itself frequently seems to want to wander off on some other tangent entirely.

Aiden has a variety of nifty powers, but the game is inconsistent about how it allows you to use them.

Of course, you won't be able to get into Beyond: Two Souls unless you're a subscriber to Quantic Dream's minimalist philosophy of game design. Like Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, Beyond is less concerned with typical game action than simply providing interactive contexts for you to periodically engage. You do control Jodie the majority of the time, and moving her around can sometimes be a bit of a chore, especially if you have to drop yourself in and out of cover quickly. Other than basic movement, you mostly perform actions by tapping prompted buttons that appear on screen, holding them, pressing them in particular successions, or by tapping the right analog stick in various directions. There are some Sixaxis motion controls as well, though few of them require much more action than simply tilting the controller to one side or the other, or shaking it up and down now and again.

All this stuff ranges from the mundane to the reflexive. Tapping the stick in one situation might just lead to you picking up a beer, at which point you'll have to tap the stick again to drink it. In a completely different situation, Jodie might be fighting off three or four cops, in which case time will slow down right before an attack, and you'll have to tap the stick in the direction of oncoming attacks to block them, while tapping again in the direction Jodie is punching or kicking to strike.

Other times, you'll be controlling Aiden. Being an incorporeal entity, Aiden's interactions with our world are more limited. Most often you'll just be interacting with highlighted objects by pulling back on both sticks and letting go. This can do everything from simply knocking an object over, to flinging a table across a room or knocking a person straight out. You can also possess specific people, which will allow you take control of their bodies, and in some cases, you can just a kill an enemy outright. Unfortunately, a lot of this is arbitrary. Who you can kill, possess, or ignore is entirely decided by what's convenient for the scene, versus any sort of logical sense. So, of course you can kill the sniper that's sitting 20 feet away from everyone, but you can't kill the guy you need to possess to trigger the next gameplay sequence, nor any of the other random soldiers needed for the next scripted sequence. Similarly, Aiden has the ability to shield Jodie from attacks and impending danger, but can only apparently do this when it's convenient for the plot. Like, why is Jodie able to use Aiden to save herself from dying after jumping out of a burning building, but can't make Aiden shield her from the throngs of Somali soldiers looking to kill her earlier on?

This stuff generally works best when Aiden is allowed a bit more freedom in his objectives. In the birthday party scene I mentioned earlier, you'll end up in a scenario where you can essentially torment a bunch of nasty teenagers for quite a while. That starts out innocently enough, with Aiden flinging furniture around a bit and cracking a few windows, but as time goes on, his attacks become much darker. Before I'd even realized it, I had begun flinging knives at one kid, and actually set the house aflame. Interestingly, I could have chosen to just leave the house, instead of screwing with these kids who had previously tormented me. Likewise, I could have ended the spookin' without actually stabbing anyone, but the end result of the scene would have pretty much played out the same way. Beyond does dabble in player choice, with certain scenarios presented that can be handled either by divergent actions or dialogue choices. But the game isn't really about that stuff, necessarily. Multiple endings do pop up, but they aren't reliant on particular choices you've made throughout the game, so much as they are just another choice to make late in the proceedings.

Should you play Beyond: Two Souls? That's a, uh...complicated question.

As I sit here, trying to assemble all of these previous paragraphs into a traditional concluding recommendation, I find myself struggling to come up with a simple answer as to whether you should play Beyond: Two Souls. Maybe there is no simple yes/no recommendation to give this game. For every part of it that comes together almost perfectly, there's another that's stricken by needless cliche or undercooked gameplay. Taken on a purely technical level, Beyond: Two Souls is by far the best game Quantic Dream has yet produced. Conversely, Beyond can be as ridiculous as any of the most ridiculous moments in Indigo Prophecy or Heavy Rain, and it can feel as sparsely interactive as either of those games could as well. It is unmistakably, unambiguously a David Cage game, with all the potential caveats and potential boons that label comes along with.

All I can say is that in spite of its sometimes dopey script, its slavish dedication to control mechanics that don't always quite fit, and its unrelenting desire to stuff in as many obvious blockbuster movie references and cliches as a single game can hold, I enjoyed the experience of playing Beyond: Two Souls. It certainly won't change the minds of anyone not interested in Cage's particular brand of game, but for my money, I think Cage at his best still earns your attention by sheer virtue of what he aims for, and sometimes even manages to capture, if only for fleeting moments and sequences.

Alex Navarro on Google+
232 Comments
Posted by Sooty

Jason?

JASON!!!

Edited by LegendaryChopChop

I love me some Quantic Dream and David Cage stuff. I didn't think Alex would like this one much, so 3 stars is not exactly surprising — but I'm glad he tries to understand it for what it is. I haven't played much into it but man, I basically love what I've seen so far. Truly ambitious.

Posted by JZ

@bartz: yeah this is a fancy adventure game. Not some horrible cancer on videogames.

Edited by RonGalaxy

Im on the fence. On one side Im extremely interested in this game, even in its hokey/goofy side. On the other hand, 60 bucks is 1/7 the price of a ps4, not including a game... I really wish this was a 40 dollar game

Posted by clumsyninja1

Reading different reviews this game is polarized, IGN gave a 6 but GS gave a 9...I'll stick with Alex review though.

Posted by Emperor_Norton

Just finished playing the birthday party scene, now I really want some sort of haunted house simulator game where you just fuck with annoying teenagers and try to kill them with ghost powers

Posted by mrcraggle

It seems this may be Quantic Dreams best game in terms of production but it may end up being their worst in terms of critical response. I feel conflicted whether or not to keep my pre-order. I only went ahead and purchased it as I was able to get the steelbook edition for the same price as the regular. I liked both Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit but they both have massive issues that have been discussed at length and it seems those issues are still a problem that it's hard to keep overlooking.

Posted by Stonyman65

I'll pick this up sometime, but probably not a full price. I don't know. It kind of seems like a game that could be watched on Youtube and you wouldn't be missing anything.

Posted by TWISTEDH34T

Where's the quick look?

Edited by CaguamatorFK

Got the game early and I agree with Alex, this is by far the best game Quantic Dream has made, story wise is a lot more satisfying and the voice acting and "gameplay" are just better. The problem is that Cage's writing and script sometimes still feels contrived, weird and full of cliches.

Even so, it's a worthwhile experience for those interested in this kind of games

Posted by Slayeric

Despite all his rage, he is still just David Cage.

Master-level first post.

Edited by McLargepants

Sounds like they didn't fix the part of Heavy Rain that drove me up the wall, terrible writing. Doesn't seem like I'll be playing this game any time soon.

Posted by Rejizzle

@darkstar_kop:

Quantic Dream games aren't for everyone. I'd pick up Heavy Rain on the cheap first, and if you like that then pick up Beyond: Two Souls.

Online
Posted by Cold_Wolven

Wow that's a long read but enjoyable nonetheless and judging from the review it still feels like the games that came before it which for the money being asked for it I'm gonna say no for now.

Posted by minya

So the plot is basically Bourne Identity but with Juno and ghosts? I don't know if that's really appealing, really stupid, or some tantalizing combination of the two.

Posted by RE_Player1

I love the mixed reviews. Makes me want to experience the game for myself.

Posted by BaconGames

In a way it feels right that David Cage made another David Cage-ass David Cage video game. I'm just glad he's been given enough chances to confirm that this is what he does and we have something like this to discuss, bad or good.

Posted by NickLott

I've enjoyed the hell out of all of Quantic Dream's games and I loved the demo. Sometimes the most interesting games to me are the most divisive. Looking forward to getting this in the mail today.

Posted by shinluis

David Cage has gone and made his game again.

That's all I needed to confirm in order to completely ignore whatever I heard and will hear of this game.

Posted by Pixeldemon

Is the first post just a Smashing Pumpkins reference or is there something that's actually clever/funny that I'm missing?

Anyway, this looks like another bonkers David Cage game. Seems promising, but I think I'd prefer to watch someone else play it though. Endurance Run? Hmmmmm? Hmmmm?

Posted by Snail

Never stop writing reviews Alex.

Posted by ArtisanBreads

Yeah it's a David Cage game.

Posted by CaguamatorFK

@darkstar_kop: Even thou HR is cheaper, Beyond is a way better experience.

Posted by Brainling

@krabonq said:

QTEs are cancerous to games and should be used as little as possible, because gameplay is by far and clearly the most important thing.

In other words, the Quantic dream games after Omikron were all more or less garbage, with Fahrenheit being the only ok one.

Unfortunately, Telltale Games is going down the same road, with their ultra-simplistic point and click adventures...

So who gets to decide that "gameplay is by far and clearly the most important thing?". Doesn't it take a ridiculous amount of hubris to assume you speak for what all gamers want out of their interactive entertainment?

I don't like Quantric Dream games at all, but I lack the ego it would take to assume no one at all likes them, and that the qualities that make them what they are, are antithetical to games....because I decided so. There are obviously people who enjoy these sorts of interactive storytelling games. Quantic Dreams success and the success of Telltale's Walking Dead prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, there is market for these games. Who are you to decide that everyone who enjoys them is obviously wrong and should see things only the way you see them?

Posted by BBQBram

I just don't know with this game.

Posted by project343

Despite all his rage, he is still just David Cage.

That just made my day. Welp, it's time to go to sleep because today isn't getting better.

Edited by Morningstar

This review sold me more on Beyond than anything I've seen/heard from this game since it was announced a while back. Maddeningly ambitious, that's the type of game I want to play (even if I'm not quite "playing" it). I'll take that over highly-polished formula.

Amen, brother.

Posted by Sammo21

And to this day I still don't know what people are expecting from David Cage. I have this game paid off and I still picking it up after work today.

Posted by AuthenticM

@adamazing said:

Despite all his rage, he is still just David Cage.

I don't get it.

Edited by S3V3N

It looks good, so people will buy it. Even though you could make those games on Laserdisk and there is nothing innovative about them. I think the author took a beating to the head and read too many books about storytelling. Obviously we have a hero's journey here and obviously he took it much too far. I remember Heavy Rain was a game you could play with Noobs and Noob girlfriends, because they have a story and pretty graphics to look at. Apart from that, these "products" have nothing appealing about them.

You really didn't have to write that big an article on that meaningless a game!

Posted by Klei

Despite all his rage, he is still just David Cage.

Clever.

Posted by kennybaese

Well, I liked Heavy Rain quite a bit (I haven't played Indigo Prophesy), so I'll probably play this at some point. I'm holding off on the new consoles for the first price drop, so this'll probably go on my list of games to play later for cheap while I save up for a PS4.

Posted by playastation
Edited by probablytuna

Hmm, might skip this one.

Edited by iragequit

I very recently saw a commercial for this game on TV. SRS BSNS. Video games, stop trying to be movies.

Posted by Pauper

I don't see how people liked The Walking Dead so much yet don't seem to like Cage games. I loved Heavy Rain and didn't think it lacked mechanics. QTE's are a mechanic and not a lot of games do them as good as cages. People seemed to like azuras wrath. Are cage games just looked down on due to there serious/wacky plots? I can't wait to check out this game once I finally finish The Last of Us (which have good mechanics that get pretty boring and I just want to finish the story)

Posted by SlashDance

The most frustrating thing about Quantic Dream's games is that I never had any problem with them design wise/gameplay wise. I love how they play, I love how they look, I never felt too passive while playing them and I actually think you could tell pretty much any story with those mechanics.

If only one of them had a good story, it would be the perfect game for me.

Quantic Dream, please, hire a writer already!

Posted by Regular_Kirk

Despite all his rage, he is still just David Cage.

Hey-o!!!

Posted by chrisphil1724

@adamazing:

Despite all his rage, he is still just David Cage.

No! Bad comment! You should know better.

Posted by JoeyRavn

I still can't believe the girl from The Last of Us wasn't based on Ellen Page...

Posted by bkbroiler

Sounds like with decent acting and people who speak the English language competently, this might be something I play. I don't mind the QTE stuff, and in some cases actually find it quite fun, but the accents and story of Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy were so bad I just couldn't finish them.

Edited by sissylion

fights off would-be rapists

Good lord. Has David Cage ever written a female character that wasn't almost raped? Even the writers of Law & Order: SVU don't use sexual assault as a plot device as much as this fucking guy does.

As someone who would like to see games eventually become a more complex and intelligent medium, I really wish David Cage wasn't at the helm of this "games should tell a story" movement. Everything about that dude, from interviews to the games he makes, seems like he has no idea what the hell he's doing.

Edited by awesomeusername

@darkstar_kop: Play Heavy Rain. It'll probably be hard to go back to it if you play this, but what do I know? I only played this games demo. But play Heavy Rain first anyway.

Edited by Moncole

Despite all his rage, he is still just David Cage.


Now he has the Green Goblin and Shadow Cat in his movie that he call a game

Posted by FoxMulder

Loved Indigo Prophecy as I had never really played anything like it before, enjoyed Heavy Rain for the most part despite some shitty parts, have ZERO interest in playing this game at all.

Posted by TestamentUK

Hmm... having read the review I'm pretty sure I'm going to love this one... I think? Seems like the only meaningful comparison is to previous David Cage games. Not really sure what 3 stars means in this context.

Posted by Humanity

Should I play this first or Heavy Rain? I picked up a PS3 for cheap and really want to blast through some of its top games and these two are fighting for the game I play first.

Heavy Rain is pretty good in it's own right but you'd probably be better off getting this instead. If you take a liking to this game style then Heavy Rain isn't that different, and if you don't like it then you'll know you've played the best of the bunch.

Edited by heartofalion28

My issue with this is 60$ for a 10 hour not quite a game storytelling endeavor. At least the walking dead was what 30$?

Posted by Stimpack

That's rather disappointing. I was really hoping that it wouldn't be so scripted. Oh, well, I'll wait until the price drops I think. Thanks for the write-up, Alex. It was well-written and very informative.

Posted by naephi

The Tommy Wiseau of gaming returns!!!