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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 Roger778

That was a very well-written review, Alex. Good Job.

I'm sad that this game won't come to the X-Box 360, because I love heavily story-driven games.

Posted by Devyn

It seems to me that David Cage continues to try and improve his vision of what interactive fiction should be, while maintaining the flaws that ultimately bring down "games" like "Heavy Rain" and "Indigo Prophecy"

I guess it's good that his games are improving every time he makes them, but it doesn't really matter if they all fail in the same way. Games that have minimal gameplay NEED to have a captivating way to integrate that gameplay AND a compelling story to back it up. David Cage is just not the writer to bring forth that type of material.

Posted by coribald

I just finished this thing and I LOVED it. It's definitely chock full of flaws and frustrating at times, but the entire thing start to finish is so much more emotionally intense than any game I've ever played. By keeping the gameplay...let's say minimal, but having the player drive forward all major events, I found it more impacting than something like The Last Of Us, where the very strong narrative is broken up by what I found to be not particularly engaging, repetitive combat experiences.

Probably not for everyone (it really is ALL story), but I really think it deserves a playthrough.

Posted by Cheesebob

I'll wait for a quick look.

Edited by blacklab

Gonna QL this shit or what?

Edited by GaspoweR

@rmanthorp said:

@adamazing said:

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

10/10

Would read again.

Oooooh that Smashing Pumpkins mash-up. :)

Edited by JesterPC238

Seems like this game falls in between not weird (Heavy Rain) and weird enough (Omikron and Indigo Prophecy).

Posted by _Soki_

The reviews for this game are all over the place.

Posted by ShoutHouse

@darkstar_kop: I thoroughly enjoyed Heavy Rain, and since you can get it for about $10 new this week (due to sales) I'd say go with that.

Posted by YOUNGLINK

Does anyone know if there is going to be a QL? I know Alex reviewed it but I'm sure they could get a copy and mess around a bit.

Posted by infantpipoc
Posted by LeChucksBeard

Just three hours into the game, but loving the athmosphere, the characters and the story. Some chapters are far more scary and intense than I thought this game was going to be.

Gameplay is great if you compare it to any other "graphic adventure" out there, and it's "meh" if you compare it with any other "proper" game. Still, it's a great experience so far.

Posted by SoulHarvester45

I played and loved this game. I love Heavy Rain (it's one of my all-time favorites), and I think David Cage has a unique gameplay philosophy. Minimal, yet integral to the progression of the plot. Sure, some things might not work in the traditional sense (the guy's from France, I'm sure they have a different sense of narrative than we do), but for what it is, it works really well. Definitely one of my favorite games of 2013.

Edited by cthomer5000

Just finished this... felt fairly disappointed. I enjoyed Heavy Rain much more overall.

The writing just sort of goes off a cliff about 4-5 hours in. I was buying in 100% for about the first 4 hours, then started hitting a "wait, what did he just say?" sort of phase... then the writing full just sort of spirals out of control and it feels like he is throwing out all kinds of ideas just hoping something will stick. I'm not even sure David Cage fully knows what the story he is trying to tell is about.

I love the ambition, and trying something new, but not sure this one succeeds overall.

Online
Posted by KingX

I enjoy this game quite a bit.

Personally I couldn't care less about how you play it. Everyone should now by know that David Cage focuses alot on character development and has storyheavy games with a rather quicktime driven gameplay. But it work nicley.

Why they didn't implemented Move support on the other hand is beyond me. I thought Heavy Rain grew alot when played with the move controller and I had hoped that this game would have had Move function aswell.

Edited by LeChucksBeard

Just finished the game. The story kept gripping and intense until the last very moment. Definitely in my top 5 of the year.

And if you haven't seen it yet, one of the extras is a short story called "Kara" (you can find it on YouTube, too). Very very recommendable, too. Would like to see a game based on it.

Posted by Spoonman671

This game is at least as whacky as Deadly Premonition. I think I recommend it?

Posted by Rowley058

@darkstar_kop: Play this instead of Heavy Rain. Rain has similar concepts but terrible acting.

Edited by jpmcosta

After reading the review, I got the impression that this isn't really a game, but it should be kind of interesting.

Posted by TinyGallon

I'll sum it up this way: It's a perfect rental. I wish there were more games you could say that about.

Posted by Tomba_be

I bought this game after enjoying the demo. But halfway in I feel like I made a mistake. I was expecting the lack of gameplay just as in Heavy Rain. But that game made up for it by having a good story and making choices matter. This game has a horribly predictable story. Having the CIA betray someone is as predictable as the huge plot twist in which the nice moustached politician with a combover who is building vacation homes for jews, turns out to be a bad guy... The whole 'jumping through time' is just a way to mask the bad story: "of course you can predict what will happen because we've shown you!'

Even worse is that nothing I have done thus far made me feel like what I did mattered at all.

At a certain point I refused to do something the game wanted me to do (opening a door for someone I didn't want to let in), and after waiting for a few minutes, I just got a cutscene in which Jodie opened the door anyway...

David Cage might claim that the 'Game Over' screen is failure of game design, this is just as bad. I've seen some gameplay from other people playing the game, and even when they made completely different choices than me, or succeeded/failed in some QTE's I failed/succeeded in, the outcome was always exactly the same.

Posted by dudeglove

Year of the Cage continues?

Posted by agentboolen

@darkstar_kop: Getting Heavy Rain its really cheap these days and a very good game.

Posted by agentboolen

@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.

I think there are room for both types of games. Heavy Rain I found to be one of the most original experiences for this gen. For GTA5 its always fun running around in a city doing stuff you can't actually do in real life. IMO both games are the better part of this gen. If anything deserves to be attacked its those games that have endless sequels that come out every year like clockwork.

Posted by PompousDawson

Just finished this game today and it was definitely a pleasant surprise since the reviews were so mixed. I liked Heavy Rain a lot and found this to be even more enjoyable due to the fact the story really had me invested in how Jodie would turn out after everything she goes through. Alex's review is a solid reflection on just how insane the narrative can be as it bounces from one crazy locale to the next. But I kind of didn't let that bother me as I was too wrapped up in the crazy ghost going-ons to really be overtly critical of the game.

4/5.

Posted by Korwin

Finished this last night. The script does indeed feel a little rough in spots, however overall I found it quite enjoyable and the performances that the main cast give are surprisingly devoted all things considered. The score for the game is pretty fucking great to. I'm a sucker for a good soundtrack and this one certainly delivers on the grand dramatic scale that the game is aiming for.

On the technical side I was also extremely impressed with what they've managed to squeeze out of the geriatric PS3 hardware, of course it's pretty easy to tell how they made that possible. The whole game is shown in a pseudo anamorphic format with 25% of the top and the bottom of the screen simply covered with black bars, this allows the quantic boffins to use the spare horse power left over from rendering at what would essentially be 1280x360 to really dial up a lot of other effects. For instance the particle effects you get when possessing people as Aiden would make some up coming PS4 games blush.

One thing to note is that my girlfriend who mostly leaves me to my own devices when playing a lot of games actually sat down beside me and watched me play through the entire game. Not only that but after the first evening she was someone insistent that I keep playing the next 2 nights so she could see what happens. I feel this is a unique quality in the game that 90% of what else is on the market lacks and it's sort of why I find myself gravitating towards games of this nature more and more. In a world full of generic cookie cutter military and sci-fi shooters Beyond is a breath of fresh air, even if it is a little flawed.

Posted by Wolf3

The review reads just like my experience playing the last two David Cage games. I imagine I'll feel the same about this. I wish they could be better in various ways, yet at the same time I *love* so much of what he does, and that he's trying different things. Heavy Rain's not my favorite game ever, but it was also a "must play" for me just for what it is as a game and the unique experience (and the awesome graphics in his games don't hurt).

I honestly love that Sony funds stuff like this, that isn't just another genre game. Not that I don't LOVE FPS (especially stuff like Bioshock) but I love this and L.A. Noire and other games that are trying to push at different ways to tell stories.

Posted by ike7779

To me a 3/5 from Alex means "must buy." Games he is too fond of or too set against are the ones I question.

For the record this game touched my soul in all the right and wrong ways. Loved it.

Posted by GabrielZyx

I really enjoyed playing Beyond : Two souls, It was from the best to fall, Even if there some Gaps on story and That (You Can't Die), But i find it very emotional and deserve to take more views, and for Those who Keep meowing about How bad The controls is! You bunch Of Pussies!

If there's something I don't a Admire: Not just Beyond : Two Souls but Badly lot of games . . . Some of The languages in Games didn't present Well, except for English of course, Worst of all, The Arabic language, is not Correct at all, It's too God damn horrible . . . I wish developers looked carefully about this issue and try to fix it in future, Just bring people who really talks the right language, We need to feel the games in right way!

Edited by Athasin

@darkstar_kop: Definitely Heavy Rain. The two games are in no way related story-wise (so it honestly doesn't matter which one you play first), I just like Heavy Rain so much better.