The Best Movie I’ve Played This Year
Beyond: Two Souls aims to be one of the most story driven and emotional games ever. It has Hollywood actors, it has life-like graphics, it has vast amounts of motion capture, and it has something that kind of resembles gameplay. While these elements exist, none of them really hit the mark. This game feels like a broken vase that has been glued back together and called a work of art.
Beyond: Two Souls
Console: Playstation 3
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Released: October 8th 2013 (US), October 11th 2013 (UK)
Beyond: Two Souls is almost all story and nearly all cutscenes. The story follows Jodie (played by Ellen Page) from age 8 to 23 as she copes with living with an entity known as Aiden who is always with her, though invisible. At a young age, her parents handed her over to the government’s custody, as they can’t cope with her powers. In comes Willem Dafoe’s character Nathan Hawkins, a paranormal researcher for the government who acts as her surrogate father throughout the story.
The nearly 10 hour story is played out of order, jumping between different times in Jodie’s life, without rhyme or reason. Typically in stories that do this, it is because a flashback is related to something that takes place just after it, but that isn’t the case here. You’ll go from being in a foreign war torn country in Africa, then back to when you were eight, then suddenly you’re at a Navajo ranch.
Many of the events that happen in the game feel like a checklist of things that are emotional: loss of loved ones, childbirth, loss of belonging, homelessness, suicidal thoughts, use of child soldiers, being a little girl afraid of monsters, and love. While the game has content that in real life would be considered emotional, there isn’t enough build up or emotional attachment made in the game to really make an impact. For example, there is a scene where Jodie ends up on a ranch run by a Navajo family. Jodie gets the cold shoulder throughout this chapter in the story from the “hot” brother of the family, yet at the end of the chapter has the option to kiss him on the mouth. The scene plays out as if they have been falling in love throughout the chapter and it has been building up to this moment, which isn’t the case.
This seems to be a recurring theme when it comes to love: a male treats Jodie like crap, Jodie falls for them for no reason, they kiss out of nowhere. Perhaps there are events that could be triggered that make more sense out of these romantic events, but if that is the case, why have the option to kiss these men if you don’t go the romantic route? If the correct dialogue choices and events didn’t occur they could have easily left out the option, making the story make a bit more sense.
“For a game that has a strong emphasis on story it certainly doesn’t put together a narrative that makes sense”
The story is riddled with plot holes in other areas too. Why were entities attacking Jodie as a girl in her sleep? How did they get into this world if they are supposedly only coming through contained rifts the government controls? How did Jodie end up in the desert at a Navajo ranch? What friends did Jodie have that were meeting her at a bar, when earlier we were shown she had no friends? How did Jodie go from being treated like an object by Ryan to being madly in love with him? For a game that has a strong emphasis on story it certainly doesn’t put together a narrative that makes sense, and it feels like the jumping around in the timeline is just there to distract you from that fact.
The games director and writer David Cage has stated “with more polygons comes more emotions,” which I had originally dismissed until I experienced Beyond: Two Souls. More polygons certainly help the story have more emotional impact by making you forget you are playing a video game and feel like what you are looking at is real life, or a movie. Beyond: Two Souls certainly delivers in the graphical department, as far as characters go. There are times when there was some noticeable blurring around objects and some of the environments come off a bit bland. What is it with video games and always having to show office buildings and their cafeterias? Is it because developers are stuck there all day?
Voice acting, motion capture and the soundtrack are all top notch. The title screen music, Jodie’s appearance, and the theme change depending on where you are in the game, which is a nice touch for those gamers who don’t play 10 hours straight. Willem Dafoe’s character model always look like the real thing, the only problem being he doesn’t seem to change at all in the 15 years shown in the game.
As far as gameplay goes, if you can call it that, there are three main components: dialogue choices, floating around as Aiden, and quicktime events. The dialogue choices show up occasionally during cutscenes that allow you to react to the conversation at hand, options vary from being emotions, to telling the truth, avoiding the question, to accepting or rejecting affection. It doesn’t appear that many of the dialogue options affect much of the overall story, but just cause you to either see or miss out on some dialogue.
Events that do seem to affect the story are typically controlled by Aiden, as he can heal characters to prevent them from death. That being said, the characters seem to just show up later to say “Look, I’m still alive.” or “Hey, I’m dead” adding nothing to the actual story or narrative. Controlling Aiden consists of controlling a first person view that can float through some walls yet not others, pushing or breaking objects, choking out enemies or possessing characters. The big issue with controlling Aiden is when going forward there is always a downward tilt, which often makes controlling him a chore.
The majority of the gameplay is quicktime events, either holding buttons, mashing buttons or pressing the right stick in the correct direction at the correct time. While mashing buttons and holding buttons works as intended, the right stick quicktime events are poorly implemented. As the game is often framed like a movie, with varying angled views of the character, it can be confusing to know which direction to press. For instance, much of the combat is hand to hand and there is a scene where you are fighting a gang of four men on the streets. The camera is showing the characters from the left and Jodie is kicking up towards the guys crotch. Do you press left or up? This seems to happen time and time again, fortunately combat doesn’t really seem to matter as even if you fail quicktime events it seems like the outcome is almost always the same.
Score: 5.5/10 – Review Scale
Beyond: Two Souls is a hard experience to review, so much in fact I don’t even feel right in calling it a game. The story has large plot holes, the emotional content is contrived and the gameplay feels broken and tacked on as an excuse to call it a game. I would have rather had a 10 hour long choose your own adventure movie with dialog choices with a bit more clarity in the story. I’d happily pay full price for that, as long as they allowed you to fast forward or skip cutscenes you’ve already seen, which Beyond: Two Souls does not, making a second play through a test of your patience. I’m not about to sit through The Lord of the Rings Trilogy again in hopes that I hear a slightly different dialog choice, so I can’t recommend players do the same here. All the endings are readily available after unlocking the last level and the epilogue, and replaying the entire experience for a 20 second clip of a character opening their mailbox just isn’t worth it.
Also the content of the story is predictable, full of plot holes, and the treatment of women is a bit off putting, considering Jodie falls for every guy, has a male entity protecting her, and is often damseled, and then there is the attempted rape scene included for no reason other than “emotion.”
While I did enjoy Beyond: Two Souls a great deal, I can’t help but see the flaws like the glue holding together that priceless vase you broke as a child and your mother painstakingly put back together. In this case David Cage is your mother and Beyond: Two Souls is the game and he put this together for himself, not for you.