[ Review ] Beyond: Two Souls

Are any of you old enough to remember Choose Your Own Adventure books? I used to read those things by the case load. I loved the ability to read a book but have direct control over what happened to the characters and how those choices affected the situations. Most of the endings were, more or less, different variations of the same things but the real beauty were the few books that took this idea and made the endings wildly different but still in context. This is primarily why I fell in love with Quantic Dream’s work: they gave me a brilliant story that, while outlandish and unorthodox most times, handed me control over how events were going to go forward. They gave you the ability to make certain choices, choices that had real and lasting consequences – not in the Mass Effect sense where it changed the world around you but in the sense that it made your character develop and change in certain ways – and held you accountable for those choices later on so that your challenges were more personal.

Indigo Prophecy (or Fahrenheit in certain other countries) started it out for me but I didn’t really start following Quantic Dream until I heard about Heavy Rain and got to complete it for myself. Unraveling the case of the Origami Killer has got to be one of the best told tales in gaming to this date – the only problem here was that I have a hard time calling it a video game. While this kind of video game was right up my alley, it felt way more like those Choose Your Own Adventure books that I was mentioning before; you’re on one path of many but you’re still moving towards the same ends. Add into the mixture that that means you’re spending more time watching what’s going on than taking part in what’s going on and you have something that’s more of an interactive movie than a video game.

What you have here with Beyond: Two Souls is something along the same lines: they tried a few new things and it works to some degrees. It works against the game somewhat but when you consider the context of the game and the story as a whole it makes a lot of sense. When taking in everything about this game, you have to wonder a couple of things: a lot of people are terribly judgmental about this game for its being so damn erratic and throwing gameplay elements at you without really showcasing them but is this really because this game’s potential wasn’t fully realized or that this was done on purpose to immerse you in exactly the way Quantic Dream wanted for the player? That’s a tough one to figure out, I think, without directly asking the creators…

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The Gameplay

There isn’t a whole lot to this game in terms of gameplay – it seems like a big point of contention with this game right now and it seems people were expecting way more than what they got. When you’re actually offered more direct control over the game, you’re doing one of four things: you’re in a slow-motion segment where you have to push the right stick in the direction that Jodie’s momentum – which, I’ll tell you now, isn’t always obvious – is moving towards, you’re making a decision or conversation, you’re moving around the playing field, or you’re pressing a combination of buttons in order to progress Jodie’s actions. Jodie’s success or failure seems to depend on how well you can do those things – whether you succeed or fail, though, doesn’t stop your progress, apparently. Never have I failed a sequence and have that land me in a “Game Over” sequence. Everything just kept trucking along, my failed decisions, actions, or choices being chained to me like a large weight, whose consequence would be apparent to me later. While this is an interesting way to go about it, that certainly removes any sense of urgency or motivation when you get the feeling that you just can’t lose, especially if you’re not attached to the characters.

As a game, my primary beef is that the game – like so many people before me have probably stated – could have been so much more in terms of what you can actually do to affect the story and its characters. Not every choice can be as drastic as whether or not you jump off a ledge to your doom but, rather, during some of the action sequences, I want to control, with greater influence, how I go about the situation, much like in games like Metal Gear Solid 4; if I fail, then the enemy captures me instead of killing me, throwing me into a brand new circumstance to get myself out of. If I get knocked out during a fight, then I get back up after being robbed or scolded or whatever and would have to live with that judgment. They didn’t necessarily have to sacrifice interactivity to preserve their concept, yet they did. Can’t say that I like that, too much.

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The Story

This is the game’s raison d’etre: to tell a brilliant and layered story. The story of this game revolves around the character, Jodie Holmes, through three main points of her life. Jodie’s quirk is that she was born with a gift; she is spiritually bound to an invisible entity she calls “Aiden” and Aiden can manipulate the world around them to suit their needs. This manifests in a way that the world around them isn’t ready for and that sets Jodie on her way through the journey of her life, which takes her all the way from a scientific testing facility, to a course with the CIA, all the way to the Department of National Defense.

I’m going to go no further into it so that way I’m not spoiling anything for anyone but there are two things about this plot that I really enjoy and it actually has nothing to do with the super-epic main plot arc. First, there’s a lot of seemingly insignificant moments in the plot that are deceptively consequential and incredibly human; second, the ending ties up nearly everything that’s come to pass neatly and leaves a lot wide open for interpretation and discussion without confusing people. While this story isn’t exactly told in a neat fashion – going back and forth between three integral phases of her life in an erratic way won’t exactly win many fans – the nonlinearity isn’t exactly unfamiliar territory; Christopher Nolan’s Momento is an example of a movie that was presented in a very similar way. It was all over the place until the very end where everything came together and the reasons for everything, including the way the movie was told, are explained. Some of the explanations in Beyond are kind of a stretch but they do serve to tie things up nicely if you think about it in just the right way.

Aside from that, let’s talk a moment about the star acting in this one – not all of the supporting characters are on their top notch game, here, but the performance Willem Dafoe, Ellen Page, and Kadeem Hardison give (as Nathan, Jodie, and Cole, respectively) are among some of the best acting performances I’ve seen in gaming hands down. Given, this isn’t always saying a whole lot but this is still an incredible performance and Ellen Page is often found stealing the show and carrying the narrative along on her back alone. Given the scope of the game’s plot and the demands it makes of her, personally, her performance here is astonishing and just admirable.

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The Lighter Side

Emotion is the core that drives much of the narrative in this game and, for that, it actually seemed to really grab the attention of my wife-to-be, Daisy, when I was playing it; you have to keep in mind that Daisy isn’t much of a gamer, so that means a lot when a guy like me when she actually gets in the zone with me and gets involved, so I asked her to write something for my article to show what she, the casual gamer, thought of the game:

Warning, some spoilers ahead!

I occasionally look up from Facebook and wedding planning to check out the game Kenny is currently playing; having just felt the loss of the awesome music from Grand Theft Auto V, I noticed he was playing something different, a game with a sweet-faced little girl with some sort of troubling issues of a presence that seemed to protect her/control her. At first, I was like “Well, this is some weird shit” but then I slowly pushed my laptop aside so I could actually see what was going on. I don’t game, I only watch sometimes. I have only ever really watched through Mass Effect and The Last of Us (which was entirely too creepy and gory for me). I was so into what I was seeing, this poor little girl, being tested and not having much of a life outside this facility she was in and this “presence”. It kept shifting: one time she would be a little girl; the next, she was at an awkward party where I relived every awkward shy girl party moment I have ever experienced; the next, she was grown up again, fighting off war lords..(can this girl not catch a break?)

This game doesn’t go in order so I was even more intrigued (and upset for people with OCD) to find out why. I kept asking him questions and if I missed anything when I had to get up for something. I started to really like this girl, she was strong and always fighting this constant battle to be who she wanted to and just be a normal girl. I liked the characters (well, most of them). As we were bounced around through her life I became emotionally attached to her, I wanted her to live and find out what this presence was all about. This game REALLY has a great story, it’s not “just a game.” I felt like I was watching a movie the whole time and I couldn’t wait to see what happened next. Parts of it reminded me of The Last of Us, even I thought she looked a little bit like the girl from that game but it’s very different.

– That was an awesome call on her part because Ellie from The Last of Us actually looks a lot like Page, a likeness that has often led some to believe she was originally created to be portrayed by Page but that didn’t work out.

I looked it up and found out Jodie Holmes was actually Ellen Page, which is funny because I had no clue but I kinda thought that was who she looked like. She did an excellent job and was a very strong female character. I’m not one of those feminist types by any means at all but this is a kick ass game with a strong female main character. Which I think, sometimes, us girls need to be reminded of. She stands up for herself, she pushes limits, etc. Even goes through different looks and phases; that part was very real to me: the partying, the dating stuff that we all go through and you are basically watching her do that. In one scene, she is so excited a guy is coming over she apparently forgets to order pizza or find her phone, she even goes through the “what should I wear” routine.

– That scene is when Ryan comes over for an impromptu date – you have to compete with Aiden’s jealousy and the fact that getting everything together for the occasion is way harder in this game than it should be. Why does a portable phone have to be so damn small? Seriously, hasn’t everyone used cell phones for the last ten or so years?

To sum it up, as a gamer wife to be, I see a lot of games, some I look up and don’t care much about; this one was amazing, I almost want to play it myself, I hope there is a second one or a movie. And come on now, you can give her the option to “kiss” which I remember screaming out ..”now kiss, kisss” then “why didnt you make them kiss, God come on” and you can relive all your awkward teenage moments! This game is a 10 for me and I didn’t even play it! I was shocked to find out in the end who/what the presence was: the game is entirely worth it for that, I had came up with various theories throughout and none were true. However, I would like to see it played again now knowing more stuff to see if the connections make more sense! I’m kind of really sad it’s over now. Guess its back to wedding planning for this girl!

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The Final Verdict

One would buy this game for the same reason one would buy a movie; not so it would consume every moment of your free time that you could spend watching movies, but rather so you could revisit a great tale that you enjoyed, at your convenience; which is exactly how I would recommend any of Quantic Dream’s games. You should experience it at least once but don’t hold onto it if you don’t plan on checking out all the story branches and getting all the trophies.

Just keep in mind that the game is, above all else, an interactive drama; you’re not going to get much actual replay value from it. If it hasn’t interested you, yet, and nothing I’ve said has sparked interest in you, nothing in this game will and, in buying it, you’ll have wasted your cash. This is one of those “once in a while” games that you’ll keep around to kick back with, play it differently, and see if anything different happens.

Great experience but the whole gaming part falls kind of short.

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