Beyond: Two Souls is an interactive drama action-adventure video game for the PlayStation 3 console starring actors Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. It was developed by French developer Quantic Dream, the same team behind the hit Heavy Rain.
Released just last October 2013, the game has received mixed reactions from critics. I was excited about it when it first came out, but after one playthrough, I found the whole gaming experience a bit disappointing. Overall, playing Beyond: Two Souls feels like watching a bunch of (cool) cutscenes, where your actions have very little bearing on what happens.
The game centers around Jodie Holmes, a young girl has been connected to a mysterious spirit entity named Aiden since birth. After being given up by her foster parents, she is brought up by researchers Nathan Dawkins and Cole Freeman who conduct research on the infraworld for the United States Department of Paranormal Activity. The story unfolds in a non-linear timeline, and the player gets to control both Jodie and Aiden.
The game skips back and forth between different points in Jodie’s life covering a period of more than fifteen years, slowly revealing the mystery behind the entities and Jodie’s unique gift. I liked the fact that the plot was developed through a nonlinear narrative, and I got to see different phases of Jodie’s life, from a scared kid, to a rebellious teenager, to a skilled fighter, and how she used her Aiden in the different phases of her life. I also loved her styling and outfits through the years :p
The overall story was pretty intriguing. Unfortunately, it was also pretty confusing and by the end of the game, only a few questions were answered.
Unlike games focused on leveling up and improbing stats, this game is very story driven. There’s not much room for exploration and the gameplay was pretty limited, since it forces you towards a certain path in order to trigger events to move the story further.
You do get some control in the conversations with other people in how you respond, and you will get hurt if you don’t press the right button at once, but overall, there hardly seemed to be any strategic gameplay. I originally heard that the game offered multiple endings depending on your player-choices, which left me worried at first about the different actions I was taking and how it would affect the story (ex. will choosing to order pizza instead of cooking Asian stew affect how a certain character feels about me?) . Apparently, these choices don’t really matter. Even in battle, you can pretty much do anything and still survive since you can use Aiden if you ever get knocked out .
It really felt like a series of cut scenes where I had to press buttons occasionally, rather than a game where I had control. Aside from the major decision that you can make at the end, the multiple endings are apparently just a combination of who among the characters you meet along the way will survive through the entire story.
Graphics are easily the best selling point of the game, and everything is very realistic. The facial and motion capture systems, combined with the voice acting of the main stars was excellent. Tiny details like hair movement, how rain and fire affected the shadows, and how tears fell down cheeks during close-up scenes were visually stunning. I also liked the small details of Jodie’s outfits and room changes as she grew up.
The graphic artists also managed to captured the essence of the different locations in the various chapters, including war-ridden Somalia, a Navajo desert reservation haunted by an evil spirit, a community of homeless people struggling to survive through a harsh winter in the city, and a secret base hidden in heavily snowing fields. Unfortunately, there was very little room for exploration, as venturing beyond a certain part of the landscape would just prompt an NPC to tell you where you were supposed to go or the AI reorienting you to go to the “right” direction.
Occasionally as Jodie, you engage in battles against soldiers, who you can take down with a combination of stealthy moves like hiding behind walls, taking them down quietly or shooting at them. During the battles, there are scripted Quick Time Events you will be prompted to press a series of buttons at the right time or move the directional button in a certain way if an action is in slow motion. When all else fails, Jodie will plaintively ask Aiden for help and you can use him to possess enemies or make things spontaneously combust.
I found controlling Aiden (projected as a beam of light emanating from Jodie’s mind) a bit tricky, especially for things like healing injuries.
One playthrough of Beyond: Two Souls lasts about 10-11 hours long. I apparently could have saved some people, but am happy with the ending I got, so I don’t really have an urge to replay the game again.
Did I mention I love her outfits?
It’s probably worth replaying if you aim to get all the trophies. The only thing I’m curious about is the major decision you have to make at the end. I’m kind of curious about how the other endings turn out.