Review - BEYOND: Two Souls
Validating a game's place in the spectrum of video games can be a dicey proposition. So for the sake of this review, let's all be very clear that BEYOND: Two Souls is a piece of interactive fiction. It seems most interested in evoking an emotional reaction from you, over encouraging you to have fun. This focus on story creates an often misleading notion that this diminishes its value. BEYOND doesn't fall victim to this misconception, but it isn't a game changer either.
BEYOND builds a narrative around various systems of Quick Time Events (QTEs), light puzzle solving, and a unique companion character. It clearly lauds story over gameplay, but still encourages you to play an active role. While it won’t be keeping score, there is weight to the decisions made and repercussions for actions taken. Players should expect to engage with a variety of characters in a well written sci-fi adventure, which succeeds in part due to the actors portraying their roles with conviction. The models emote in ways that feel natural despite some rather unnatural circumstances and that helps to further developing the relationships, ultimately defining the game as a whole.
Mechanically you’ll control two characters in BEYOND: Jodie Holmes, as portrayed by Ellen Page and Aiden, an Entity from another dimension parallel to our own. Aiden's activity quickly becomes the more intriguing of the two, providing you with "ghost-like" qualities. You float about freely, knocking around context specific objects and scaring the bejesus out of people. You also have access to a variety of supernatural abilities which will aid Jodie and dispose of enemies. It can get pretty messy when you possess a guard, execute all his buddies, and himself. Aiden has his limitations through a tether shared with Jodie. They can only be separate so far before her body will reach a breaking point. This strength will vary with Jodie's own emotional/physical strength, over the course of her life.
Jodie can interact with objects, solve puzzles, and kick ass via gesture-based QTEs. The way in which you interact with a scene is very contextual and often guided. That is of course a big part of any narrative, but the engine limits what your character is capable of in every given chapter. Most gesture inputs work about as well as can be expected, but the combat system often felt a bit hot and cold. Gesture based martial arts using only left, right, and down appear simple, but left me frustrated at times. Confusing camera angles also did a poor job of communicating the appropriate direction, occasionally throwing off my rhythm, leaving me to stumble through the overall scenario. Though I never failed, because punishment seems largely nonexistent in BEYOND, it left a bad taste in my mouth and felt like a step backwards from past efforts. On the other hand, Quantic Dream still manages to challenge conventional interaction through a companion app and co-op.
BEYOND has multiple control schemes and co-op local multiplayer in an effort to get more people interested in sharing the experience. It’s commendable, but ultimately lessens the more interesting aspects of the game. The ability to shift between characters is split between players, siloing the game mechanics, and limiting any real interaction. You can also download the iOS/Android app BEYOND Touch, which turns your smartphone into a DualShock 3 surrogate. Surprisingly much of the interaction successfully transfers to the device, though the movement feels sluggish and Aiden loses a bit of freedom. I tried to spend an equal amount of time using both options and either will work, though the DualShock was superior. Thankfully any combination of these devices can be used in co-op, bridging the worlds between analog and digital.
The concept bridging the worlds goes far beyond a single relationship, as the revelation of the InferWorld existences is the catalyst for so much in the BEYOND's world and Jodie's life. Building her character through the obstacles and opportunities that shape a person's life. I found the complex interaction between Aiden and Jodie absorbing. Having you the player making decisions surrounding these two characters go to further those complications in an interesting balance of suspense and mystery. This even translated into the method of conflict resolution presented to you, should Jodie get into real trouble. Aiden is more than a companion, but as a guardian empowered to help the both of them, he can overcome whatever these two worlds can throw at them.
And that'll be a lot. Often BEYOND has you hoping around a 15 year span of Jodie's life. She is a person who has seen the world, a world BEYOND does a great job of building. Filled with interesting places to see and experience. Graphically the game presents beauty in varying degrees. It will occasionally look hauntingly real, but then show off some jarring pop-in visually in other areas. But the environments are varied, doing well to complement the backdrop for times of great change in Jodie's life. Despite the black and white decision making behind your final choice; there are a variety of endings based on your actions, encouraging you to go back and share with others. But make sure they're ready for quite the journey as this weighs in at about 10 hours.
Ultimately they were hours well spent in my opinion. I don't want to ruin anything, so I will simply say I found BEYOND: Two Souls to be a fascinating work of science fiction, with an enjoyable mechanic thanks to the characters you engage with. The flaky gesture based combat system or lack of any sort of "fear of failure" didn't detract from an overall entertaining experience. It isn't exactly a graphical pioneer, but it still remains visually impressive throughout. Quantic Dream has managed to create another unique experience for the PS3 by continuing to push forward the current generation. Even as we move into the future.
|ScrewAttack's News Director Sean Hinz worked in logistics for over four years before decided it was time to switch industries. After a couple years spent getting an MBA and freelancing, he finally found a home at ScrewAttack.com. As far as games go, Sean likes to play anything he can get his hands on, but especially enjoys third-person action RPGs. Is that really a genre?|