System: PC, PS3, PS4 | Released: October 2013
Developer: Quantic Dream | Reviewed On: PC
Beyond: Two Souls is a cinematic drama of considerable ambition and is Quantic Dream's preceding entry into its notable catalogue of compelling pieces. Initially released in October 2013, the following two years would see the game yielding numerous accolades from various gaming & entertainment outlets across the globe for its innovation and direction.
The title follows the life events of Jodie Holmes (Elliot Page) as she endures a constant struggle to break free from the custody of the Department of Paranormal Activity and the control of the CIA, due to the supernatural powers she wields; an adjoining soul who resides in the planes between the physical and the beyond. Throughout the game, you learn to control Aiden (the incorporeal entity attached) in various ways to aid you in 're-enacting' specific scenes from Jodie's life which are essentially key areas that design the formula for the entire story. Choices made in these 'scenes' or episodes are entirely up to the player and dictate how the events unfold with a rather satisfying infographic at the end of each part detailing the percentage of players who made the same decisions as you. This was interesting to see and resulted in me trying to make the rarest of choices going forward, and goes some distance into telling you how 'normal' you are with regards to other gamers.
Building on the overly ambitious mechanics in Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream has further honed their unique control system and whilst, in my opinion, they are rewriting how these types of games work and play, they just fall short of creating a fluid enough experience (albeit closer still to the mark) - Read Jonny's review of Quantic Dream's next instalment Detroit: Become Human for more on this.
Their abstraction brings a more ergonomic style of gameplay to our hands and does well at not over-complicating actions taken in the live-action, however, it's more than noticeable how jarring the whole thing is. I found myself routinely mashing wrong buttons, but maybe that's just me? Adding to this disjointed feeling when playing, is the way Quantic have projected their camera angles, although I know why they've opted for this style of directing. They wanted to make the photography of the game as cinematic an experience as possible and the camera angles presented in this way allow them to partially realise their goal. I just felt like, whilst moving Jodie, the angles and auto panning were slightly unnatural and not conducive of a full field of view, especially when turning corners. So much so that I opted for continuously pushing the camera to the aft of Jodie against some invisible resistive force. Some tightening up of this on their part and they might just have cracked it. I'm led to believe that the effect of this is lessened in their latest title.
In light of this restrictive outlook on camera angles, your bodiless counterpart (Aiden) is entirely unbound by any conditional law of movement and is totally 'unclipped' from these restraints. You are able to manipulate the view in all axis' and it feels a hell of a lot more gratifying. If this game was to be a motion picture, the negatives I have just detailed are immaterial and, if anything, they are perfect for that format. They have tried something different to create a more filmic experience for the audience and it's a commendable achievement when one thinks about how close they are to it. What's even more laudable is the fact that they refuse to be dissuaded from continuing their style of mechanics & control despite a history of negative reception in past games. They seem determined to refine it to perfection and I think I love that about them.
The gameplay as a whole is by and large a mixed bag of satisfactory mechanics. There are just enough live-action sequences to keep the thing alive, aptly contrasted with long bouts of relaxed scenes. In the more energetic sequences where Jodie is forced into close combat, Quantic utilises a slow-motion precursor allowing the player to make the correct control decision, but this is a small aperture which puts you in a perpetual state of tension. If you press the wrong control or move in the wrong direction in that split second margin of grace, the sequence continues but I'm surmising that the outcome is based on how messy or perfectly you traverse the combat. Likewise, if you simply do nothing and this is the same for anything else live-action in the game such as dodging objects flying through the air.
The level of detail in Beyond: Two Souls is nothing short of amazing. Character avatars display a wealth of visual accomplishment in terms of detail and realism and it sets an impressively high standard for games of this genre to compete with. Having seen some of the 'making-of' footage with A-List Actors Elliot Page and Willem Defoe, it's absolutely clear that Quantic's efforts were justified. Similarly, the movements of characters are some of the most realistic I've ever seen in a game and renders the experience of watching them very authentic.
On the same subject of acting, Quantic Dreams' choice of cast was exceptional. Dafoe's & Page's respective performances were, in my eyes, award-winning and their ranges in style and tonality suit the underlying theme of the game perfectly.
To accompany these intense, first-class performances and the crazy-good story arc is the work of two accomplished composers; Lorne Balfe (known for Assassin's Creed III) & Hans Zimmer (as collaborator/producer). It's not difficult to envisage that the score was going to be a work of art before even hearing it, and that's exactly what it was - a work of art. The score sets the tone of the game incredibly well in each episodic sequence and in most cases reflects the protagonist's anguish on so many different levels and intensities. It carries the story with ease and you along with it, and ultimately rounds off the game as a complete experience.
But the game isn't without its flaws as previously mentioned. The negatives surrounding gameplay are one thing to contend with for a large portion of the game until you - kind of - get used to them. Not only that, I found that a particularly sizable chunk of the story around the mid-section (if you are playing as per design intent and not chronologically) appeared to be irrelevant to the grand scheme and could have been omitted without much influence on the ultimate causality of it. It was also a very abstract section that I feel didn't fit in with the other sequences but I understand why Quantic wanted to include it. They, I believe, used these sequences of lesser intensity to show Jodie's life events to create a connection between player and character. They succeed in doing so but is irrespective of whether the aforementioned mid-section existed or not, I feel.
Another story-related detail in which I believe Quantic's writers could have improved on is the innocuous love story. Now, I am not entirely sure how many romantic scenarios are built into the game and to what extent each one unfolds, but the one I experienced appears to be the most common and with a character that could be a tad more likeable. Aside from this, the amount of choice-related deviations embedded within the story arc seems to be sufficient enough to justify another playthrough with confidence that a different route from A to B will be given.
Verdicts carry a certain finality that I don't like; For me, Beyond: Two Souls had some low points but for the most part, the game is a great experience. I would have hoped for more action in the story than subdued telling moments and I don't think Quantic got the contrast between the two just right, a balance that is not so easily achieved in these types of games. But generally, the story is an awesome campaign with enough substance to cause an attachment between the player and protagonist with a grandiose conclusion.
The controls are unique as they always are with Quantic Dream but are slightly jarring which is more just something to get used to, however, I did feel it pull some juice out of the experience.
On the flipside, Quantic has created a cinematic epic that tells a beautiful story using a stellar cast to portray it with their revered acting skills. I love that about it and enjoyed following Jodie through her journey. I was emotionally involved and was even more so with the final choice & conclusion, and I feel like the end justifies the means with a possibility of another playthrough in the future.
A well-written moving story, excellent acting, a unique method of play and a grand finale is a complete full circle of induced satiety. Happy Troy.