Heavy Rain developer Quantic Dream is back with the second in hopefully a line of interactive dramas exclusively to the Playstation 3, Beyond: Two Souls. This time around they have moved from the mystery / drama genre to a more action-adventure oriented storyline with supernatural elements in it. This is the first review for my “Month of Reviews”, and given it is a couple of weeks old now I have had the opportunity to look at some other reviews written up – and they have been very mixed, ranging from a D-grade equivalent to an A-grade equivalent.
Personally… while there are a number of flaws in the game it had only minimal impact in affecting what was otherwise an enjoyable game. I think the way you need to approach BEYOND: Two Souls is to consider it not as a game so much as an interactive drama which focuses more on storyline than actual gameplay. If you go in expecting minimal QTE’s and full control over everything then you will most likely end up disappointed.
BEYOND: Two Souls follows a young girl named Jodie, who for reasons that are explained much later in the story is attached to an autonomous “spirit” named Aiden, who is invisible to everyone else however can interact with the environment around him. While initially living a normal childhood, at the age of eight she is taken under the guardianship of the DPA (Department of Paranormal Activity) run by the government. This story details a fifteen year journey of her life, as she goes from spending almost every waking moment with researchers Nathan Dawkins and Cole Freeman, to life in the CIA to a life on the run…
You might think that in the last sentence I pretty much spoiled the progression of the entire game. Actually these are all events that take place within the first hour or so, with the game featuring non-linear plot progression and you can jump from Jodie and her handler Ryan Clayton undertaking a mission in a foreign embassy to Jodie attending a birthday party. It can be disjointed at times and especially in the earlier hours of the game you may (like myself) feel like turning off the game out of frustration due to there being major plot holes that have not been cleared). However later on when you get a grasp of the events that are taking place throughout her lifetime, it becomes tolerable, and I think helped keep the variety of different event types fresh.
The options you take as a player can impact what happens during later events, although the impact of these choices didn’t feel as prevalent as they were in Heavy Rain. My favorite events were in Jodie’s childhood and teenage years where you, controlling Aiden, are given the choice to either play politely and stop Aiden when things get “out of hand”, or set him loose and cause havoc. While not exclusively for the reason, this is often to attack people who are bullying Jodie or not letting her have her way. I will admit it did get to my head a bit, and while I usually try and play as the “good guy” on first playthroughs, it let things get a bit out of hand on almost every occasion. Other interactivity ranges from putting away laundry, delivering a baby to a first-time mother and fighting against individuals possessed by malevolent entities.
As BEYOND: Two Souls is a heavily storyline oriented title, I won’t go into any detail on the specifics as I respect this game too much to have the experience spoiled by a rogue spoiler. What I will say however is that Quantic Dream and David Cage in particular has gone into this game with some bold ideas. While the concept is really interesting it isn’t always pulled off well – occasionally deviating into hour or two long arcs that often have you doing menial labor and activities for little storyline benefit. They may have benefited from being a little bit more linear as well, however for the most part I thoroughly enjoyed my playthrough.
Heavy Rain set a really high visual standard for Quantic Dream to meet back in 2010, and through the use of motion capture technology similar to that used in films, BEYOND: Two Souls matches if not exceeds the target. The visual quality looks the closest to what we have seen to real life on the current generation of video game consoles, with world designs that are high attention to detail and character models that have gone even further to attain a sense to realism both through their appearance and fluid movements. Aside from the odd texture jerk and the fact that sometimes the darker scenes were too dark even in an unlit room… there is nothing much to criticize in this department.
As reported earlier, Quantic Dream enlisted some big names in the theatrical music industry to produce musical pieces for BEYOND: Two Souls including Hans Zimmer (Whose roles include Inception, Sherlock Holmes and Pirates of the Caribbean) and Lorne Balfe (Assassin’s Creed III, Call of Duty and The Dark Knight – often with Hans Zimmer). While most of the music doesn’t stand out to draw away from the other elements, it works well to complement the events that take place.
The two key voice cast members to feature in BEYOND: Two Souls are Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, both of who suit their characters perfectly and due to the motion capture aspect of the game also have their likenesses replicated in their roles of Jodie Holmes and Nathan Dawkins. They are joined by a strong voice cast including Kadeem Hardison as Cole Freeman and Eric Winter as Ryan Clayton.
Just to reiterate the message from the opening paragraphs, if you go into BEYOND: Two Souls expecting many of the familiar gameplay mechanics of a third-person shooter or action game then you will most likely be disappointed in that regard. Despite the more intense settings and actions from Heavy Rain, most of the time you are either left walking around (with the camera persistently pointing you in the right direction), doing button presses or moving the joystick in a direction either prompted or in response to another characters movements.
Most of the time you won’t do anything more than walk around looking for another white dot which indicates an interactable object. Often to interact with this “white dotted object” you are required to move the right control stick in the direction relative to Jodie’s position, which at times can be an issue and can at times be vague if you are mean’t to move down or right for example. Most of the time this isn’t an issue, however there are a few occasions where multiple options can cause you to choose the incorrect one despite your best intentions. This right stick movement issue also carries into the action scenes. To fight you generally have to move the right stick in the direction you want Jodie to attack (or against the character you are attacking). This is usually fine, but when you either need to attack upwards / downwards or fighting against an awkward camera angle it is easy to fail the QTE and be hit.
As mentioned above they do provide a number of serious and casual activities to do – from shooting at targets and delivering a baby to making dinner and turning the nozzles of the shower. The variety is there, but can come down to the same core set of movements just in different contexts. To add another layer of gameplay, you are often given control of or able to choose to control Aiden, the sentinent entity attached to Jodie. His use ties into the story well, and while sometimes used as a source of disobedience and rebellion against others, is often used in the action intense scenes albeit with his own small set of control mechanics that don’t always tie in well with the action provided.
While there is little new in terms of gameplay for BEYOND: Two Souls and even less if you have already played Heavy Rain, it makes up for this downfall with an enticing storyline, realistic visuals and a strong voice cast. BEYOND is a unique experience that unlike many games allows its storyline to shine without being interrupted by long-periods of gameplay, and is a title I would happily recommend to those who love a good story in their games. In an industry that is always after the next “fresh” idea, I am curious to see how Quantic Dream will best themselves in the Playstation 4 era.