Beyond: Two Souls review – Paranormal interactivity


By Geoffrey Tim on Tuesday, October 15, 2013
"Not the grand emotional experience that’ll challenge the way we look at games."

With David Cage’s perpetual ramblings about emotions in games, and how he was going to very nearly singlehandedly change the way we feel things in a medium that’s all about “shooting things,” his latest bit of interactive fiction, Beyond: Two Souls was always going to be heavily scrutinised. It would never be able to please everyone. I adored Heavy Rain; it was a fresh, unique and interesting experience in a time populated by little else other than Call of Duty clones, and I’d have been happy for a similar experience with Beyond. That’s what I got – and yet I’m left a little disappointed.

Unlike Heavy Rain, where you switched between the game’s four protagonists, here you’ll just be controlling one; players control Jodie Holmes, magnificently characterised by Ellen Page, who’s a very special girl. Jodie has something rather unique about her; a paranormal link to an ethereal, otherworldly entity that’s tethered to her. In a way, you’re actually controlling two. You can switch to taking control of that disembodied entity; his name is Aiden, and through his link with Jodie, you get the ability to move objects telekinetically, heal wounds or read the memories of dead people and inanimate objects.

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The game charts her life as she tries to piece her memories back together and make sense of the life she’s had so far – and is presented in a scattered, chronologically jumbled, non linear sequence of loosely connected events. In one moment, you’ll be playing as a very young Jodie as undergoing experiments at the behest of the Department of Paranormal Activities, headed by surrogate father, Professor Nathan Dawkins, adequately played by Willem Dafoe – the next, she’ll be a young adult, undergoing CIA training in a delightfully clichéd 80’s movie training montage; later, she’s an angsty teen, tired of the confines of her laboratory prison.

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No matter what age you take control of Jodie, it’s hardly the sort of taxing thing most people would call a game. I suppose the most accurate descriptor would be the one Quantic’s David Cage uses himself: “interactive fiction.” You’ll occasionally press a button while pushing forward on the analogue stick, or hold a few buttons down while watching the story unfold on your screen. If you’ve played Heavy Rain, you know exactly what to expect, as it’s mechanically nearly identical. For those who haven’t, what you’ve got is essentially an interactive movie that you’ll affect through on-screen quick-time event prompts and dialogue choices. Yes, this time around you have slightly more direct control over your character; though a poor camera and sluggish controls often make it a bit of a chore. There are some new action-oriented actions, where, after the action slows down reminiscent of bullet-time, moving the stick away from the direction of an attack moves CIA trained Jodie to safety, and pushing in to the direction unleashes an attack – but as with everything else, it’s all context-sensitive so you’re never really in control of anything.

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The biggest new feature is controlling Aiden. A button press instantly switches control from Jodie to her tethered, ethereal counterpart. Aiden is able to pass through walls and interact with objects and items in the environment. One of the more interesting things Aiden is able to do is remote-kill people, as well as possess them, allowing captured bodies to serve as vehicles, but for some reason, you’re only able to kill or possess certain people, for reasons that are never made clear. Much of what you can do with Aiden doesn’t make a lot of sense, and only serves to drive the narrative. Usually, you can’t stray too far from Jodie when playing as the spirit, but sometimes, when it suits the narrative, you can venture much, much further than you usually would. Conversely, sometimes you can’t pass through walls as Aiden, with no explanation as to why. Bending the game’s mechanics and established physics to the will of the narrative is frustrating, and indicative of poor writing.

Where it differs fundamentally from Heavy Rain, is in player agency, and urgency. Because it starts at the end, thanks to that jumbled narrative, you already know that Jodie is fine, making very nearly everything you do quite pointless; you know things are going to be ok. There are a few instances where what you do actually has some sort of real meaning, affecting your experience, but most of your actions only change the tone and direction of conversation.

screen 1

The debate as to whether or not it’s a “game” is moot; because its mechanics, or lack of them, are not where the major criticisms lie. If the game is sold on its story, above everything else then it had better be a damned good one, and unfortunately, for much of Beyond, the story falls flat. There are some incredibly emotional and poignant moments; bits that speak of real human emotion  – especially where Jodie is coming to terms with the supernatural being that perpetually accompanies her, but there’s a strange shift in tone towards the game’s tail-end where the whole thing descends into lunacy, and becomes a strange amalgamated mash of just about every single straight-to-DVD paranormal and Sci-Fi trope you could think of, that had me face-palming all the way through to the game’s obvious revelation.  Whatever emotional investment you may have in the characters is yanked out from under you, and it degenerates in to the very sort of action-oriented nonsense that Cage is always so vociferously critical of.

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While Cage’s writing may be suspect, his keen eye for visuals is appreciable. He certainly has an incredible talent for cinematography, and some of what you’ll see in Beyond is downright mesmerising. He’s equally adept at creating moods, and fuelling tension -  but I really wish he’d reign it in, open up and let somebody else in on his editorial process. His ambitious stories are always always let down by circumstantial irregularities and plot holes you could fit entire solar systems into. Much noise has been made about the game’s extensive motion capture – and for the most part it’s incredible, with the system capturing every nuance of the actors’ performances. At least, when it comes to Jodie and Nathan, that is. Side characters often lack the same fidelity and detail and range of facial expression, creating quite a disconnect. Animation though, is still not quite there, so the game tumbles in and out of the uncanny valley, making the juxtaposition of realistic movement on what looks like puppetry quite jarring. It’s still one of the best looking games on any console right now, though if you stare at it for long enough, the cracks appear, and the need for next-gen becomes all too apparent.

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Like Heavy Rain, Beyond isn’t for everybody. It might not even be for fans of Heavy Rain. With its science-fiction bent and closer similarity to Fahrenheit/The Indigo Prophecy, it may not even be for fans of Quantic’ Dreams last game. It’s not for everybody, but it’s interesting and enjoyable in spite of itself – just not the grand emotional experience that’ll challenge the way we look at games it was sold to be.

Beyond: Two Souls was reviewed by on the 15th of October , 2013 at 3:30 PM on PlayStation 3

GAMEPLAY
5.0
Is it even a game? There's very little that amounts to "gameplay." It's sold as interactive fiction, with a few button presses guiding the on-screen action. Those who buy it expecting a traditional game are likely to be disappointed.
DESIGN
8.0
Cage's flair for visuals is readily apparent, and it's one of the best looking, most lavishly presented games on the PS3.
VALUE
6.0
There's little impetus to replay the game; The end is presented as a very nearly binary choice. You're able to replay the chapters in any order you like, finding new ways of doing things or finding things you may have missed.
TOTAL
7.0
Beyond: Two Souls biggest criticisms don't come from the fact that it's not a "game," but rather from the fact that its very core, the story it hinges itself on, isn't as good as it should be. Suspension of disbelief only goes so far.

Tags: , ,

Author:Geoffrey Tim

I'm old, grumpy and more than just a little cynical. One day, I found myself in possession of a NES, and a copy of Super Mario Bros 3. It was that game that made me realise that games were more than just toys to idly while away time - they were capable of being masterpieces. I'm here now, looking for more of those masterpieces.

Don't stop now.... you're having a good time


  • Admiral Chief Ninja

    In related Lagz news. Brenda got OWNED on Tuks

    • http://www.lazygamer.net Gavin Mannion

      lol very nicely done…

      • Admiral Chief Ninja

        Thank you sir, ’tis my pleasure

    • Alien Emperor Trevor

      What happened to poor Brenda?

      • Admiral Chief Ninja

        Trolled masterfully on live radio (Tuks)

        • NecroRince

          How? Give us more dammit!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Details or it didn’t happen.

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            I’ll do it yet again, next week

          • TiMsTeR1033

            You called in and gave him a hard time?

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Kinda like you & @rincethis:disqus on the Sexbox?

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            XD

          • TiMsTeR1033

            You feel left out? I can include you! can make a sandwich!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            I don’t think you vegetarians can handle my meaty filling.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            I wouldn’t do that, I don’t eat junk food!

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            You’re right. I’m sorry. I meant to say vagitarians.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            Is that your species? your home planet Vaginastar!

          • NecroRince

            Oi!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            Together FOREVER RINCE!! hahaha

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            lulz

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            Nah, sent sms, that they read on air, prior to his pre-recorded interview

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            Which said what? This is like drawing teeth!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            You would know, how many times they caught you now? 8 times, for cheating in the casinos!

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            “Please refer to Darryn by his official online persona of Brenda. Admiral Chief”

          • TiMsTeR1033

            They called him Brenda on air?

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            Indeeeeeeeed

          • NecroRince

            Tehehehe. Wait, I’m still angry at you!

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            Cuz why?

          • TiMsTeR1033

            Well DONE!! I wont lie you have done something many of us would of dreamt to have done! GIVE THIS MAN A BELLS!

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            ;)

          • Alien Emperor Trevor

            And they did? lulz

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            Tuks are awesome like that

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            Trolling Brenda? I mean that’s just cruel man…. :/

          • NecroRince

            I’m more pissed off about the fact that there was no PINK ALERT indicating Brenda was about to air…

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            So is Brenda on air every week?

          • TiMsTeR1033

            Time to call in him they take calls!

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            Really? So I can troll him on air? Oh my… Oh my! My toes are curling at the prospect. Do you think I can use my fake Aussie accent?

          • TiMsTeR1033

            Can use any accent lol

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            SWEETT!!!! Banana Jamaican it is!!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            I really gotta bring my headphones to work then to listen!

          • Vampyre Squirrel

            Russian accent!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            Dude I have more accents, just need to practice them again. been too long! used to do Chinese, Australian, British is still easy, Scottish. My wifes pet hate is my elmo voice! hahhaha

          • Vampyre Squirrel

            get practicing man… need to hear that on GTA Online too :P

          • TiMsTeR1033

            you playing like every night these days?

          • Vampyre Squirrel

            almost… I wasn’t on last night cos I went to the movies with my wife.

            BUT… I seem to be on GTAV if I’m not on GTA Online… it’s terrible… I think I need help…

          • NecroRince

            I don’t think so. Geoff was on last week.

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            No Brenda was on last week as well

          • NecroRince

            Ah, week before then :P

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            Only started last week….

            ;)

          • NecroRince

            Geoff was on foolish boy. I listened to him.

          • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

            Are you sure it wasn’t Brenda… Both Geoff and Brenda have munchkin voices. cough!

          • NecroRince

            HAHAHAHAH! @OddSockZA:disqus

        • RandomGamer

          Saying “we are having a mass debate” fast on air sounds strangely obscene.

          • Admiral Chief Ninja

            Indeed, so much lulz

  • TiMsTeR1033

    Are those pics all from ingame????

  • NecroRince

    Nice review Geoff. Was curious to see what you made of it and it is pretty much what I thought of the game too.

  • Alien Emperor Trevor

    It seems a little jarring that your overall rating says good, but the summary description directly above it says “isn’t very good.”

    • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      thanks, it’s cos of our rating system – but i’ll fix the discrepancy

  • SaintsRowNigri

    OK wait. Gameplay (I dunno, the main reason I buy a game) scores a 3. Yet the game (or title if you will) scores a seven over all. Which is .5 less than Saints Row 4. Pretty graphics maketh the game?

    • Devourer of Small Bunnies

      I can see where you coming from, but this is also under the premise that the software is categorised not under “Game” and rather under “Interactive Fiction”

      • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

        The reviews for Beyond Two Souls have been very mixed (from praise to absolute and unadulterated hate). It just makes me wonder whether it would have scored better if it was reviewed as “interactive fiction”. Definitely food for thought.

        Anyway, my copy arrived, so I’m keen to see what the fuss is all about – but first I need to do some missions in GTA Online.

    • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      the 3 was a mistake, it was meant to be a 5 (it’s…there!). Also, it’s not an average. It’s an overall. and different things; you can;t compare the scores directly that way; they’re scored for their genre, etc. You can;t compare, say, Tetris to Skyrim and say that because tetris scored higher, it’s a better game.

      • SaintsRowNigri

        Geoff, if ever I compare Skyrim to tetris and call tetris the better game, I’ll personally drop off all my games and gaming gear on your doorstep.
        With all the love and respect in the world due to you: Go read your review again, but not as the author but as a reader. Even if this is interactive fiction, with all that you said about it, it just does not warrant a score higher than 5, I’d say.

        • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

          You may be right. I dunno; it was an overall pretty enjoyable experience; just not as amazing as I’d hoped. Certainly not as good as Heavy Rain. for all its convoluted nonsense, I still really enjoyed it.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            Seeing as everyone has ignored my question. Images taken ingame? Are they that good!!??

          • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

            Yes,. It looks really, really damned good.

          • TiMsTeR1033

            Pushing that ps3 power hard there! Did you enjoy the “game”? or did it leave you feeling like you wanted more?

          • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

            I enjoyed it, I did. Much of it was sci-fi twaddle, but it was a good experience inspite of that.

  • Pieter Kruger

    Well, it’s technically not a game, should be scored like a movie rather (would still suck though)

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      Yeah but then we need to start scoring Call of Duty under recycled goods, and that could get messy.

      • Vampyre Squirrel

        Well said!

      • NecroRince

        That goes under tetra packs right?

  • Devourer of Small Bunnies

    I was expecting much more hype over this game considering the amount of hype thats been building since 2011 (I think) A big shame the story suffers, if you take the platform into account. At least we still have Heavy Rain right?

    • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      Overall, I think Heavy Rain was a better experience.

      • Gerald Nchabeleng

        I agree. For me Beyond felt like that book with a glossy cover, that you keep reading hoping to get into it, in the end you have to finish it cos you don’t have a choice.

  • boet

    Reviewed on PC?

    • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

      PS3 bubba!

      • NecroRince

        Says PC! My one good eyes is telling me so!

        • Jim Lenoir (Banana Jim)

          IMPOSSIBRU! PC DOESN”T HAVE GAMES!

          • TiMsTeR1033

            exactly!

      • boet

        I know, but its says reviewed on PC. Got my hopes up for a second.

    • http://www.twitter.com/WobblyOnion Exalted Overlord Geoffrey Tim

      Our backend system’s gone wacky. It SHOULD be fixed.

  • Juan Peter Auret

    Hey! You guys forgot to review the soundtrack, atleast a 9.5 = masterpiece :P

  • Abel Tan

    Ellen Page, the reason i need to play this game!

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