Beyond: Two Souls Review: Interactive Drama Takes a Step Forward

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beyond: two souls box

Title: Beyond: Two Souls
Price: $59.99
System(s): PS3
Release Date: October 8, 2013
Publisher (Developer): Sony (Quantic Dream)
ESRB Rating: “Mature” for Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, Strong Language, and Use of Drugs and Alcohol

I believe there is an other side. I know not everyone does, and that’s okay, but I’ve always thought that there is another realm that somehow connects to our own. I even believe in ghosts. Naturally, this means I’ve always been interested in Beyond: Two Souls . I was a Quantic Dream fan to begin with, having enjoyed both Indigo Prophecy and Heavy Rain, but the fact that Beyond was going to explore the supernatural meant I couldn’t wait until this game was available used. I had to buy it new. I had to experience what happened to Jodie and Aiden at launch.

I’m not disappointed.

beyond: two souls

A story of a strong, scared, scarred survivor.

Jodie has had an invisible friend for as long as she can remember. His name is Aiden, and he’s constantly connected to her via some supernatural cord. She can control him, sometimes, but he has a mind of his own. She loves him, and considers him a friend, but also blames him as the reason she can’t have a normal life. In many situations, he’s her white knight, but also likens herself as being constantly connected to a lion in a cage. It’s complicated.

Apparently, for Aiden as well. Though Jodie is the one players relate to over 15 years in Beyond: Two Souls, we get an idea of his mindset as well. Part of it is because of her descriptions. At one point, she even says he’s trapped because he can’t get away from her. More often though, Aiden is defined by the actions players take when they’re controlling him.

Which means we see the two grow up. Though Beyond: Two Souls begins with a battered and broken Jodie being hauled into a police station after she’s found wandering along the side of a road, we see every important moment from her life. From her start in a fairly normal home, to being taken into a government laboratory, raised into a CIA operative, and eventually on the run as she tries to escape her past and understand her future. It’s an epic adventure that requires a serious investment of time, and perhaps a little forgiveness on the part of the player on the occasion things don’t seem to add up.

beyond: two souls

It’s all about story.

I hate when a game skips around unnecessarily. Quantic Dream decided to tell the story of Beyond: Two Souls in snippets of memories. I’m fine with that. Given the scope of Jodie’s tale, it would be impossible to present it beyond brief vignettes of the most important moments. However, the developer decided to present these moments out of order. The game begins near the end of Jodie’s story. We see hints of a capture and a showdown. Then, it jumps around over the course of 15 years of her life. Though in subsequent playthroughs, this can be changed, initially, you’re forced to follow Quantic Dreams’ lead.

While I can see David Cage and Quantic Dream were trying to go for something with this, it hampered my enjoyment of Jodie’s saga. Mainly, it kept me from caring about certain important characters. Instead of giving me a chance to love them, by giving me the chance to really sit down and know them, it let me meet them for a few moments, then jumped away to someplace and someone else. Because I was only meeting them in spurts, I wasn’t connecting with major players.

That isn’t to say Beyond: Two Souls is incapable of making players care. I did find myself loving and rooting for Jodie, Aiden, and a number of their allies. This happened most often in extended story sequences. Coincidentally, this is when Beyond‘s best storytelling takes place. Some of Jodie’s vignettes are longer than others, and it’s in these moments that I was really able to connect with the people in her life. I want to avoid spoilers, but I will say that my favorite parts of the game were the Homeless and Navajo segments, because they felt the most real. Bonds were built, and I helped make that happen.

Fortunately, the writing for most of Beyond: Two Souls segments is so good that the two major characters, Jodie and Nathan, shine. This is aided by the fact that the casting is sublime. Ellen Page and William Dafoe are perfect in their roles, and make their characters come to life. In fact, Beyond actually made me like Page as an actress. I’d always been a fan of Dafoe, but never really cared for her until now. Both display impressive ranges of emotions and connect with their characters, and in their interactions together I saw a precious, father-daughter relationship.

beyond: two souls

Inching closer to a perfect, interactive drama.

Of course, the fact that the story captured me and the characters connected is due, in part, to Beyond: Two Souls‘ amazing visuals. This is the most beautiful PS3 game I have ever played. There are moments when I felt like I was playing a PS4 game, because it was so graphically advanced. Quantic Dream did something special with Beyond, crafting a game that felt real.

What would have been better is if I had been able to enjoy a little more freedom in Beyond: Two Souls. It actually felt more structured than Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream’s previous endeavor. In the previous game, it felt like the characters had more ways to interact with the environment and more ways to alter the story. With Beyond, I felt liked there were fewer distractions and choices. I could see where major decisions were coming up, but didn’t have as much freedom to get there as I would have liked. With Heavy Rain, I wasn’t always sure what I would have to do to influence the ending. In Beyond, I did.

Which isn’t bad. What did get to be annoying though, were occasional control issues. There are three schemes in Beyond: Two Souls. The standard controls offer an easy and advanced mode for beginners or people unfamiliar with games. There is also a touch screen mode, where people with Android and iOS devices can download the Beyond Touch app to control the game. The thing is, sometimes it still felt like I was controlling an unwieldly individual who wasn’t smoothly doing what I directed. I’d say 80% of the time, Jodie or Aiden did exactly what I wanted, when I wanted. The other 20%, a movement may not register or may accidentally trigger when I wanted to do something else. I wouldn’t be surprised if this is an issue that could eventually be fixed with patches, but it shows the whole idea of interactive drama with seamless controls isn’t perfect yet.

beyond: two souls

Not perfect, but compelling and pretty.

Beyond: Two Souls isn’t a perfect game. I enjoyed the journey, to be sure, but couldn’t help wishing the controls were tighter as I helped Jodie and Aiden get by. I hated the fact that the story wasn’t just told chronologically, with Quantic Dream sending me skipping through Jodie’s past as I headed towards the final conflict. Still, Beyond: Two Souls is an amazing experience despite its failings. The story is engaging and I felt compelled to keep playing, so I’d know exactly what happened to Jodie and Aiden. I needed answers. I had to find a way to keep them alive, keep the ones they loved alive, and perhaps even save the day. Though some improvements would have been appreciated, Beyond: Two Souls is an amazing exercise in design and storytelling.

Site [Beyond: Two Souls]

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