Game Review: BEYOND: Two Souls
Quantic Dream is one of those revolutionary game developers that push the boundaries of gaming as we know it. Their latest adventure, Beyond Two Souls, attempts to do what few other video games have succeeded in doing, emotionally invest you in a video game. Set as a psychological thriller, Beyond Two Souls features simple controls and amazing visuals to deliver just that. The question is, however, how successful were they?
Beyond Two Souls is the brain child of Quantic Dreams founder David Cage. As with Heavy Rain, it is clear that his goal with video games is to evolve the genre beyond the typical point, shoot, and kill stereotype that video games have fallen into. Here he’s tapped into the impressive talents of Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe, and Kadeem Hardison in order to play out the life of Jodie Holmes (Page) who’s soul is tied to an other dimensional being called ‘Aiden’. Aiden, though not totally explained as you play, exists in his dimension yet can affect objects and people within Jodie’s. Unfortunately, due to Aiden’s existence, other more malevolent beings ‘haunt’ and attack Jodie at various times. As a result of her, talent, even the CIA takes interest and ’employs’ her for their own purposes. This interactive move plays out significant moments in Jodie’s life with ‘Aiden’ over 15 years in an attempt to discover why Aiden is tied to Jodie.
The term ‘interactive movie’ is a difficult genre to wrap your had around when it comes to video games. While there have been some successes, such as QD’s Heavy Rain and TellTale’s The Walking Dead, there has yet to be one definitive title to rule them all as other genre’s have seen at times. Maybe that is why critics and players alike have been so divided when it comes to evaluating Beyond Two Souls. On the Playstation Blog, SCEA Associate Product Marketing Manager Derek Osgood responded to varying opinions there by saying:
“Many reviewers (both positive and negative) cited the difficulty in attributing a score to the game because it’s such a unique and different experience. Comparing the game to ‘traditional’ gaming experiences is just a difficult comparison to make. I do encourage you guys to try the demo, talk to your friends who have played the game, and read the reviews in full when you’re making your decisions.”
Mr. Osgood couldn’t have been more accurate in saying this due to the fact that the focus of the game is how well you connect with Jodie and her plight from an emotional and story perspective. The challenge in that is that this focus is even more dependent on the person than most games. With that said, every experience should have some since of ‘fun’ to it that is different than simply watching a movie. Video games are heralded as a medium that gives the player a unique sense of control and immersion in the story and universe that the game is in. Miss that window and you will ultimately dislike the game.
The main difficulties in this game’s ability to ‘entertain’ are two fold. The game’s mechanics and the seemingly apparent lack of affect your choices have on the story itself are contrary to the impressive way that Heavy Rain approached things. Secondly, Beyond Two Souls’ story just isn’t that compelling.
As many other critics have proclaimed, the game mechanics and controls are very simplistic. Much like other games in the genre, you use the thumbsticks to move three dots together or to divert ‘energy’ from one person to the other. If Jodie is attacked physically, she uses her CIA training to block and strike. At the moments when she is delivering a blow, the action slows down and you must push the right thumbstick in the direction her blow appears to be moving in. If she is blocking or ducking, the same slow motion sequence requires you to press in the direction of the needed block or the needed evading motion. Honestly, that is the full extent of the controls difficulty. At times, it may be a bit difficult to decipher the direction of certain attacks and blocks but for the most part, the controls are simple. These controls can even be done with a smart phone (which is an actual option). Still, even if these action prompts are missed, a majority of the time the results don’t seem to have much of an impact on the outcome of the scene.
Then there is the story itself. Quantic Dream chose to jump around between various points in Jodie’s life timeline in order to keep the interest up. Honestly, most gamers would get a bit bored of playing as 7 or 8 year old Jodie as she plays snowball outside with her friends or roams around her CIA controlled and observed room for hours. So as you jump around between significant event, the thought is that each scene would give you some sort of revelation as to what or who Aiden is. Also, you would think that the story would regularly explore Aiden’s motivation and/or personality in addition to Jodie’s. Instead, the emotional performance as well as the story itself centers around Jodie and how she deals with having this other-worldly tie. While this is fine, considering Ellen Page performs this aspect of the story beautifully, the appeal of this story is in discovering what and why Aiden is. Too many times, the story may show Aiden saving Jodie or even conversing with Jodie but very little time is given to why. While the purpose may be for the finale to reveal all, good stories typically provide little nuggets to peak the interest of the player to continue. Unfortunately, these nuggets are few and far between. Too many times scenes will be about how Jodie wants to be normal and can’t because of how different or odd those around her perceive her to be. The real draw is around Aiden’s existence.
In the end, the real attraction of this game will be around Jodie’s (Ellen Page) portrayal of this story. Ellen manages to beautifully relay Jodie’s emotions of frustration, desperation, fear, and solitude both through her physical and vocal performances. The amazingly beautiful graphics and animation are brought to life by the same technology used in James Cameron’s Avatar movie. The results are quite impressive throughout the duration of the game. Scenes are truly Hollywood quality which make you as the player want to do your best in every scene to get Jodie through it. Of course, the final question always tracks back to what are you doing in each scene.
Quantic Dreams’ Beyond Two Souls is a beautifully rendered and acted experience that may or may not draw you in. One thing is for certain, it is unlike anything else the PS3 has to offer.