Giant Bomb Review

226 Comments

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+
226 Comments Refresh
Posted by buzz_clik
Moderator
Posted by Mr_Misery

Well I'm glad I decided not to rent this! Also I agree with others that Alex is the best reviewer on this site.

Edited by ToTheNines

Read this review and remember to take a shot everytime Alex mentions David Cage.

Posted by Undeadpool

I've read in other reviews that your contribution the QTEs hardly matters as Jodie can almost never (if ever) be killed by them. That, for me, is when I realized I'd probably never play this or if I did, wait until it's ~$20. For all of Heavy Rain's faults, its willingness to kill main characters at ANY point gave the game a (perhaps unearned) sense of urgency and intensity that, for me anyway, at LEAST made it compelling once through.

@bartz said:

@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...

Um... you do know that point and click adventures is one of gaming's oldest traditions, right? It's not like Telltale games is degenerating somehow; they are making games similar to some of the most popular games from the late 80's/early 90's. Adventure games are different from other games in how they play, but that doesn't mean that there isn't room for them to exist. Not every game needs to have a ton of mechanics. Sometimes simple is fantastic.

Well said, Bartz.

Agreed. Something like the Walking Dead is doing what David Cage has been banging his head against better than he ever has. And at a fraction of the cost because they don't need to feed their delusions of directing...and I don't even hate the guy's games! I liked Indigo Prophecy before it became The Matrix and I liked Heavy Rain, with a couple of MASSIVE concessions.

Posted by ViciousBearMauling

"Fights off would-be rapists"

Of course.... Just couldn't resist the easy way out of making us worry about the main character more, could you Cage?

Edited by Sooty

Something about Jodie's face annoys me.

Guess it's just that Cage effect.

I'm just gonna watch this on YouTube maybe, if I can find someone that isn't extremely annoying while playing it. So basically I won't be watching it either.

Edited by blacklab

Kadeem Hardison? Positive black man returns!

Edited by Pauper

@cptbedlam: I'm sorry but I disagree that TWD stayed away from QTE's I mean you don't control a whole lot... Especially the earlier chapters. And the story.. I mean it was a zombie apocalypse. Nothing real ground breaking there. There was great dialog true and I did like the way they made it SEEM like your actions controlled the story flow (even though you really just killed off some folk and ended up the same as everyone else's story) but IP was amazing for its time in how your actions actually effected the story. I don't mean to pick on TWD because I really enjoyed it but I really enjoyed IP and HR as well and part of that for me was the zany try to hard stories. And what about Azuras wrath? If that was a 4 star gb review I find it hard to believe this is 3 star. Not that stars matter but c'mon.

Posted by Fairbrethees

Powerful, Epic, Emotional. Thank you Alex for not using these words.

Posted by ThunderSlash

I just realized that his name is Willem, and not William.

Posted by AV_Gamer

Nice in-depth review. Sounds like a game worth playing to me, but only as a rental. Bu then, I think most games now-a-days should be rentals, given the steep price of 60 bones.

Posted by MATATAT

In the ideal world David Cage would be an alias for Nick Cage's game writing career. So bad it's almost good.

Posted by HerbieBug

I am intrigued. I think perhaps I would like to see Quantic Dream make another one of these with a different author at the helm on the narrative decisions. I really admire them for sticking to their game design vision. One of these days they're going to make everything click just right in a game and that will be a great thing for everyone to experience, sort of in the same way thatgamecompany hit massive success with Journey. Good things can happen when you stick to your guns on a unique idea; maybe it doesn't quite work on the first few tries but eventually all of those ideas can come together into something special.

Posted by DJSev

The scattershot reviews made me cancel the preorder for this one. I think I'm going to wait till this is a $30 or $20 dollar pickup. Between this review and Joystiq's "Ghost Fart" review, I'm going to give this a pass. I'm using my preorder for Pokemon instead. Got to catch that EllenPagemon...

Posted by soupbones

Just played a couple of hours (stopped at the CIA bit) and I'm really loving the story so far. I do see some lost potential with the limits placed on the outcome of your actions... but it's still fun and well worth the price of admission.

THis goes without saying but - it's not for everyone.

Posted by Slag

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

perfect

Posted by mrGREEK360

I'm enjoying it so far, as a PC gamer m impressed with the graphics, the anti alysing looks great and the facial detail is great. The frame rate hasn't really been bad ether coated to games like far cry 3 wich can't hold 25 fps.

Posted by ShinyTan

whoturnedoutdelights

Posted by PuppyKisses

I thought this was a PS4 game.....?

Posted by Hailinel

So, I guess that means that even the game featuring Ellen Page won't win the coveted inaugural "Best Game Featuring Ellen Page - 2013" award?

No, that will go to The Last of Us; the Dark Horse candidate for featuring a character that looks remarkably like a fourteen-year-old Ellen Page, that people consistently confuse as being played by Ellen Page, and yet has no connection to Ellen Page.

Fun trivia fact: The performance capture process for this game was essentially the same as what happened in Bowfinger.

I want to believe this.

Posted by ripelivejam

@sooty said:

Jason?

JASON!!!

J~~~AAA~~~AAAA~~~~SON!!!!

Edited by ripelivejam

I just realized that his name is Willem, and not William.

Ray Fiennes

Posted by devine1210

Good job, Alex. I guess I'll just wait until it's cheap or appears on Playstation Plus in about a year.

Posted by NeoKef

@pauper: If you look, Brad reviewed Asura's Wrath and Alex is reviewing this. Brad and Alex have different opinions on different things.

Posted by DannyHibiki

Glad to see the classic film get a proper reboot!

Edited by dprabon

@darkstar_kop: Heavy Rain first as Beyond: Two Souls has better mechanics. It'll be harder to go back (much like playing Mass Effect 2 then going back and playing Mass Effect 1)

Edited by Astrophyle

I loved Heavy Rain despite its flaws. I just thought the experience was incredible. This one is way up on my list for end-of-the-year games to play despite Alex's review. Maybe I'll agree with a lot of what he says, but I still HAVE TO EXPERIENCE IT FOR MYSELF.

Edited by ShinjiEx

I'll stick with The Last of Us still gotta play it again

Heavy Rain was interesting but not worth a buy at full retail price more of a rental

Maybe if ever I'll get the digital version of Beyond Two Souls if it ever becomes available on PSN even than I would pay only half or less for it

Edited by jerseyscum

"Fights off would-be rapists"

Of course.... Just couldn't resist the easy way out of making us worry about the main character more, could you Cage?

Of course they're also creepy rednecks in a shittybar. And the scene is telegraphed a MILE away. It's nowhere near as cringe worthy as the cliche ridden Madison "Serial Killer Bait" character in Heavy Rain.

Posted by Pauper

@neokef: yeah that's definitely true. Nothing against the three star score. I was trying to make a point against the QTE game complainers (badly). I actually like Brads review style a bit more. I felt this review was kind of indecisive and fence sittish. I'm not sure if Alex is really sure if he liked it or not. I'd rather him tell me more about why he liked it rather than try to tell me if I will or not. And to lay off the spoilers.

Posted by BoneChompski

+1 to Alex for working in 'slavish', his word of the month.

Posted by Cozmicaztaway

Is kill, possess, ignore like Fuck, Marry, Kill for the spirit world?

Edited by Brackynews

David Cage continues to move the medium forward with greater and greater iterations of Sweattech. Speed-erspireTM.

Anyhoo, I am definitely a Cage purist. I play "Fahrenheit" not Indigo, and imported the UK version of Heavy Rain because the EU collector's edition was so, SO much more appealing than the bare bones 'n boobs NA version.

I'll definitely play this to "see what that guy's done now", but I fully expect it to fly off the rails and befuddle the fuck (befuckkle?) out of me in some contrived, video gamey ways, true to form. Know what you're getting going in, and there's nothing to fear.

Edited by Jack_Lafayette

Heavy Rain with a "different" story and better acting? Guess I'm in.

Posted by Choi

@darkstar_kop: I also just recently bought a PS3 and played through Heavy Rain and I must say it was totally worth it. English is not my first language and I was still kinda disappointed by the voice acting, some plot holes and sometimes frustrated by the clunky controles...

That said, it's one of only (now) three games that try to do the things differently in that David Cage, interactive, branching, narrative style. And also, the action, quick time events that can get your character permanently killed in a play-through are fuckin' INTENSE! As a video game lover, I'm really glad I didn't miss out on it, because it's a really unique gaming experience. Play it, you can get it pretty cheep now anyway...

Posted by Morningstar

I just realized that his name is Willem, and not William.

Changed your life, no?

Edited by MindGrinder

@adamazing said:

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

10/10

Would read again.

Edited by HS_Alpha_Wolf

@darkstar_kop:

I would say play God of War 3, MGS 4, The Last of Us, and Uncharted 2 first if they hold any interest for you.

Edited by Mentaur

Played the Move-enabled version of Heavy Rain and really enjoyed it. Being physically invested in a tense scene really got the adrenaline pumping.

Edited by bunnymud

I'm liking the game. Playing it for what it is also a nice break from all the GTV/SR type games as of late.

Posted by Paindamnation
Posted by CrimsonWing69

@krabonq: Not to sound like a douche, but I think one could argue QTEs are a form of "gameplay". I think you narrowed the definition of gameplay to a specific form of digital interactivity, but the reality of gameplay encompasses a much broader spectrum of digital interactivity than just moving an avatar on screen.

One could use the 1978 Milton Bradley SIMON Electronic Game as an example of an early use of QTEs. SIMON in and of itself is a game, but it challenges reflexivity and memorization. We could transfer that particular model of gameplay to the controller using on-screen prompts as the reflexivity a player must use and the recalling of button placement on the controller as the memorization aspect.

Either way, a form of interactivity is still taking place.

Edited by Dallas_Raines

And video games continue to be the medium of choice for hacks who desperately wish they had the talent to be making actual films.

Posted by ShadowSkill11

@alkusanagi: Did you avoid reading a single preview or gameplay video over the past year? Why is this a surprise?

Edited by Bam_Boozilled

@dreamtheateropeth: Perfect.

@perkunas said:

@alkusanagi said:

Boo. I was really hoping for an actual game and not another quicktime-fest like Heavy Rain.

And what's an actual game? GTA V? Having finished the game recently, I can definitively say that game is repetitive and boring. It's the same killing waves of dudes mission over and over again. I can't say that's very interactive at all.

There needs to be more games that try to break that mold so the industry doesn't run itself into the ground.

Shots fired shots fired! Call out GTA V out of the blue. Not only call it out but slam it to the ground. Boring ass game.

Don't worry I'm sure you'll have your fun pressing buttons as they come up on screen over and over and over again much more compelling. And gameplay lacking, QTE games are definitely not breaking out of any molds. Maybe gathering mold, but not breaking out of it.

Edited by senrat

So its better than previous David Cage games, but still not great. If all a game has is a story with minimal gameplay, that story better be damn good. Too bad, I don't think its for me.

Posted by Coleslaw893

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

Best comment ever.