Played on: PS3 exclusive
Played for: 11 hours, completing the game
Beyond: Two Souls is, at its core, a cinematic experience more than a video game. It’s the spiritual successor to Heavy Rain, and if you’re a fan of David Cage’s earlier work then you should feel right at home. I, however, am not. Just a fair warning as well that this review may contain spoilers.
If any game were to prove the point that a huge budget does not always guarantee the creation of a great game, Beyond: Two Souls would be my prime example. The term “cinematic experience” also makes me want to hurl a little. For all of the complaining about Ryse: Son of Rome having tons of QTE’s, I’m shocked at the amount of praise B:TS received for generally being one, gigantic QTE masked as a “cinematic experience” with terrible exploration controls, little interaction and seemingly little consequences for your actions.
Beyond: Two Souls puts players in control of Jodie (voiced by Ellen Page), a little girl tethered to a spiritual companion named Aiden. You’ll jump across the timeline of her life in a non-sequential nature, which seems to be done as some vanilla flavor of creativity. One moment you’re QTE’ing your way across the rooftop of a train while the next chapter takes you back to her childhood to throw snowballs at the neighborhood kids.
While the plot of Two Souls is constantly predictable (M. Night plot-twist ending included), you’ll come across your fair share of interesting characters like a group of homeless people barely scraping by or a family of Navajo knee-deep in their customs and spirituality. These characters were, in my opinion, the most interesting part of Two Souls, but their storylines didn’t really interact with the original narrative.
For instance, I spent 2-3 hours in the Navajo storyline and really enjoyed the story (not the gameplay), but they were never mentioned again until the very end when you can choose a love interest. Other parts of the game, like the CIA missions (terrible cover-fire and terrain sticking issues included) seemed to only exist to appeal to the shooter crowd.
Honestly, if you felt that Final Fantasy XIII was linear, your hand is going to be extremely sore when you’re done with Beyond: Two Souls from all the hand-holding. Thank you, Quantic Dream, for I never would have noticed the only other room in the hallway with an open door had you not swung the camera around, zoomed inside of it and had Jodie explain “I wonder if I could find a good place to hide?“.
You’re given choices during your conversations, but they always seemed to lead to the same outcome. Having an NPC come up to Jodie at a bar, asking if she wants to play pool, I figured selecting “no” would have left well enough alone. The NPC, however, didn’t give a shit about what I wanted to do and we ended up playing pool together anyway. This is just one example, but seemed to be a constant trend.
Choices are there, and I’m sure they alter the conversations in some way, but they were more like a mirage to give that fake sense of choice with consequence, or a “choose your own adventure” book where every choice asked you to turn to the same page.
Gameplay switches between exploration/QTE’s as Jodie to using Aiden to drift between walls and interact with objects with a clunky control scheme. Controlling Aiden was much like I imagined trying to pilot a submarine while using the old wall-clipping cheat code from Doom.
Interacting with objects as Aiden is done by holding the L1 button and flicking both analog sticks back (my girlfriend and I referred to it as “rubberbanding”, which seemed pretty accurate), pulling them apart to possess (should the option actually exist) or press them together to knock them out (again, should this option be decided for you by the game itself).
As I just explained, Aiden can possess specific (emphasis on the term “specific”) NPCs to open a door or shoot down other NPCs before offing themselves and allowing Jodie to progress forward. Having the option to possess any NPC would have been a lot more rewarding, but there is literally one NPC in a large group that you can interact with, chosen for you by the game itself. It’s similar to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, as there is only one way to put the pieces together.
While controlling Jodie, the game itself is one gigantic linear hallway littered with QTE’s. While in combat, the game will slow down and you have to tilt the right analog stick in the direction of Jodie’s body movement, but sometimes it’s impossible to tell exactly which direction she’s going. This isn’t exactly the biggest deal as Jodie cannot die at any point during the storyline.
Graphically, Beyond: Two Souls has some of the best character models and facial animations in a game to date.. when it works as intended. Two Souls suffers from constant texture pop-in (I would say it’s on par with ID’s Rage), occasional screen tearing and constant use of invisible walls. It was nice to see how Quantic Dream aged certain characters over time, but I was baffled when a character I met once or twice looked two or three times better than a pivotal character like Jodie’s adoptive mother, who suffered from hair that resembled a created wrestler from a PS2 Smackdown vs. RAW game.
The Verdict – D-
For all of the money that went in to hiring a top-notch voice cast, it didn’t feel like a lot of that budget went in to fine-tuning the control scheme as I constantly got stuck on terrain, caused cut-scenes to repeat and constantly complained about the overabundance of mashing the controller for the last 3 minutes of the game.
With the story being the primary selling point for Two Souls, I didn’t find it that engaging and, as I mentioned earlier, found it to be extremely predictable.
The voice-acting, as expected, is top-notch, but the clunky controls of both Jodie and Aiden, the constant (albeit expected, as it’s a David Cage “game”) QTE’s, the mangled, non-chronological storytelling and being the apotheosis of linearity caused Two Souls to crash and burn for me. I would have been much more interested if this were a CGI mini-series and not some half-assed “cinematic experience”.