There’s something instantly alluring about Quantic Dream’s latest effort, Beyond: Two Souls. Following on from the success of Heavy Rain – with all its intrigue and shock twist – Beyond could have been content to repeat the formula, placating some fans but ultimately failing to push for the new. To the team’s credit, one thing the game doesn’t do is play things safe, gifting us a unique tale with aspirations to leave the Hollywood heavyweights in the dust.
Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 3 (Reviewed)
Genre: Interactive Drama, Action-Adventure
Release: (AUS) October 9th 2013, (EU) October 11th 2013, (JP) October 17th 2013, (NA) October 8th 2013
With gameplay made even more accessible than its predecessor, it’s hard to argue that the game is meant for a specific audience; namely those who value an engaging story and convincing characters over the challenge of missions. At the forefront of this is the facial technology, which pushes the PS3 beyond what many of us believed it could accomplish in terms of realism.
Environments might not always fare so well, but when a story makes a play for the heartstrings as it does here, realism of expression can be what makes or breaks a scene. Thankfully, emotional pull is one of Beyond’s greatest strengths, weaving a time-spanning adventure that’s compelling until the end. You’ll genuinely believe in the characters as you might in a good film or TV series, with Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe putting in stellar performances as Jodie Holmes and Nathan Dawkins respectively.
The tone is a sombre one, with melancholy moments interspersed with set-pieces and day-to-day activities. There’s a good balance overall, though Jodie is pushed into mundane actions such as lifting a cup and tidying up more times than you might appreciate. Some sections are downright bizarre in what you can and can’t accomplish, which is a shame considering the game’s promise to let you take the story in your preferred direction. Beyond: Two Souls simply isn’t in the same league as Heavy Rain when it comes to choice and consequence, resulting in a story that – while solidly written and well-performed – plays out in much the same way regardless.
It doesn’t help that the game clearly ferries you down a set path right up until the climax. There are multiple endings, but most make zero sense given previous events, especially when characters that are meant to hold emotional weight appear for a single chapter only. When variations do appear, there’s very little reason for you to progress the story in any direction other than its natural path.
Interactive objects are represented by a white dot, often turning Jodie’s gameplay into a case of ‘hunt for the dot’, albeit with a few button-prompt exceptions. Switching to Aiden (pronounced Eye-den?) is a more enjoyable experience on the whole, with his telekinesis allowing you to enact revenge, create mischief or even save a life should the need arise. Aiden’s sparkling tether restricts the distance he can travel (strangely changing in length depending on location), but it’s a limitation that’s relevant in context of the story.
Combat can be a sticking point where controls are concerned, as you won’t always understand what the game expects of you given the on-screen action. There are few repercussions for failure to perform well, though out of combat I did encounter one major variation when failing to act in time. Curious players are advised to be cautious, as Beyond is a game that’s easily spoiled should you stumble across the wrong forum before completion.
The urgency of intense scenes is largely removed thanks to the bizarre, out of order chronology; you’re not about to fear for Jodie’s life as a teen when you’ve already played as her in adulthood. It’s true that things ultimately come together to form a satisfying whole, but the haphazard timeline will be an issue if you prefer a logical, sequential narrative.
Ranging from perfectly creepy to surprisingly heartfelt, the story constructed is a solid one even with its problems in tow. It certainly won’t appeal to everyone, suffering from major flaws that will be apparent even to its most forgiving fans. With so-so gameplay and a lack of replayability through its own linearity, only those who can say ‘interactive movie’ without wincing need apply. For such people, Beyond: Two Souls is an affecting experience that might just leave a supernatural impression.
8.0 – Great. An enjoyable experience, fans and newcomers of the genre will be entertained. Any noticeable flaws are largely outweighed by the positives.