Review: Beyond: Two Souls

From the game Beyond: Two Souls. Image Credit: IGN

From the game Beyond: Two Souls. Image Credit: IGN

Even in it’s greatest moments (of which there are many), Beyond: Two Souls is closer to a movie than an interactive experience.

The game has mostly polarized critics since its release Oct. 8. Much of the criticisms have been aimed at Beyond’s lack of interactivity. Three years ago, this criticism was levelled at Heavy Rain, developer Quantic Dream’s previous game, which oddly enough seems much more interactive in comparison.

Beyond stars Hollywood actress Ellen Page and actor Willem Dafoe. The facial expressions, in addition to the voice acting of Page, Dafoe and the rest of the cast, have been digitized through motion capture technology. The performances of Page and Dafoe, and the technology that allows it, are the strongest aspects of Beyond. The subtle facial movements, the emotional range and delivery saves what is otherwise a sub-par script. This script itself is an improvement over Heavy Rain: the supporting characters are less over-the-top, with a few exceptions, and those horrible child actors are nowhere to be seen.

Page plays Jodie Holmes, a young woman who is connected to a mute, spiritual entity named Aiden. Each of the 26 chapters offers a glimpse into Jodie’s life across a 14-year timeline. The narrative is told out-of-order to keep the story fresh. While the disconnected narrative shows the player the bigger picture, some of the earlier scenes suffer from this approach. For example, a lengthy chase scene early in the story occurs without any context and fails to leave a lasting impression. Very few of the chapters are connected and it takes some time for the player to piece the story together.

Some of the best chapters in the game are also the longest (some clock in at 40 minutes). Each of these longer segments has a beginning, a middle and an end which is what makes them appealing. They tell a smaller story within the bigger picture. One scene depicts a homeless Jodie on Christmas Eve begging for change in the snow-filled streets. It allows to the player to taste the desperation of a homeless person. Since there are few cities without poverty, this segment will hit close to home for some players.

There a plenty of human moments that show the player how Jodie’s connection to Aiden has affected her life. But Jodie’s character arc isn’t fully realized. She undeniably changes throughout the story but the player only ever sees her development in stages, and not the actual moment where her character evolves.

Like its predecessors, Beyond features multiple endings but very few of the player’s decisions have any relevance. The consequences of the player’s choices are always felt in the same chapter that they are made. The gameplay is heavily focused on quick-time events, now entirely controlled with the right stick. It’s watered down to say the least. Some segments allow the player to take full control of Aiden, explore the area and make use of his psychic abilities. It’ll quickly become apparent, however, that there’s little do outside of what’s required to progress the scene. Most of the time, control of Aiden is held out of reach with little explanation.

Video Game Director David Cage has previously challenged the line between a movie and a game, but his latest work crosses that line rather than pushes it. It’s almost as if the gameplay was added to merely fulfill the requirements of being considered a game. Beyond is an interactive experience with little interactivity. The story and performances make this game worth playing, just keep in mind that it’ll feel more like watching than actually playing.

1 Comment

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    Reply December 8, 2013

    Justin Frizzell

    I haven’t played this game, but I have watched the entire lets play on YouTube, and i gotta say, the parts I liked the most were not the action sequences, but the everyday scenes. For instance when Jodie goes to a house party and ends up tormenting the guests. I just find it really interesting to see how Jodie attempts to fit into normal social situations. Plus, the action sequences are so linear they just don’t seem very satisfying.

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