The opinion on Beyond: Two Souls will most likely differ widely in gamers and reviewers alike. But one thing people will agree on is that Sony’s latest PlayStation 3 exclusive is one of the best looking games ever created and contains acting talent that has never been seen before in the gaming industry. It is unfortunate though that the beautifully created characters and stunning musical score do little to overcome the disjointed and sometimes confusing storyline.
Developers Quantic Dream pride themselves on creating interactive dramas with complex and emotional storylines that cater to a more mature audience. Their first game on the PlayStation 3 Heavy Rain proved that the developers could create an emotional game that did not rely on the usual videogame tropes we are bombarded with all the time. Gamers and reviewers loved it and Heavy Rain went on to sell more than two million copies worldwide. Quantic Dream decided to push the envelope further when it came to their next interactive drama, so what better way to make a film like experience on a console than to hire famous actors to play the parts of the main characters.
Jodie Holmes, the main character in Beyond: Two Souls is expertly played by Ellen Page (Inception, Juno) and hiring a world class actor to play the main character most definitely payed off. Ellen Page is exceptional in her role as Jodie, effortlessly creating a believable, likeable and realistic portrait of a girl whose life is anything but ordinary. The other main character in the game is played by the legendary Willem Dafoe and his portrayal of the wonderfully intelligent and father-like figure Dr. Nathan Dawkins is just as convincing as Ellen Page’s. The chemistry and emotion portrayed by both of these actors is the reason to play this game. It is truly a breath of fresh air to see characters in a game display human emotions that look and feel life-like.
Beyond: Two Souls is about the extraordinary life of Jodie Holmes from birth until adulthood. Jodie is just like any normal girl trying to fit into modern society except for one thing, she is connected to a supernatural being called Aiden. Aiden is with Jodie throughout her entire life and she forms an inseparable bond akin to a close family member or friend. At a young age, Aiden begins to become destructive to Jodie’s health and the people around her. Her step family have no choice but to send her away to Dr. Nathan Dawkins where he will observe her and conduct experiments in order to understand the paranormal activities surrounding Jodie and Aiden. In the game you play through certain parts of Jodie’s life and it is through these events that the truth is slowly revealed about Jodie’s life. It is here that the cracks begin to show in the game.
The structure of the story is all over the place and it has the players jumping from one random scene to the next until the timeline is finally complete. For example, the player will be thrown into a scene as a 4 year old Jodie playing with her toys in her bedroom and the next scene as an adult Jodie running from the police in a forest. I found this way of storytelling initially off-putting but as the story progressed and the timeline began to take shape, I found myself excited to see where the game will take me next. The great thing about the storyline was the locations that Jodie visits. Unlike Heavy Rain which was based in one city, Beyond: Two Souls takes place in different locations across world from South America to East Asia. Overall, the storyline is decent with pockets of cringe worthy dialogue thrown in for good measure but as gaming plots go Quantic Dream really know how to create emotional dialogue with some very mature themes of suicide, neglect, love and helplessness. Again, it is the characters and the actors that play them that manage to pull this story from mediocrity. Quantic Dream struck gold with the casting of their characters for this game and even the minor characters are expertly acted.
Beyond: Two Souls looks stunning, this cannot be stated enough. The facial animations, textures and character models look amazing and at times I simply could not believe I was playing this game on a console which launched in 2006. The Movement animations of the characters and the particle effects in the environment also look incredible and it is these small but very important aspects that help Quantic Dream achieve their vision for an interactive drama on a console. I commend Quantic Dream for their technical ability to produce life-like graphics and animations that really help the player to become engaged and feel emotionally attached with the characters in the game. The musical score composed by Hans Zimmer is equally as breathtaking and compliments the emotional and personal nature of the game perfectly.
Beyond: Two Souls can be controlled via the dualshock 3 or a Smartphone/tablet using the Beyond Touch app. The Beyond touch app which can be found on the IOS or Android store was created in order for casual players to enjoy the story with a simplified movement scheme. The app works perfectly with little to no lag and I feel that casual gamers will get great enjoyment using their phone or tablet to control the characters. In the game you can take control of Jodie or Aiden depending on the situation. Because Aiden is tied to Jodie permanently, you use him to interact with the environment in order to help her when needed. When playing previews of this game a month ago, I was very worried about the inclusion of Aiden in the game. I felt it might break immersion in the story but as I played the retail version, I began to understand why Quantic Dream included such a character in the game. Aiden is the biggest thing in Jodie’s life and he is essential for her survival in a world that is completely against her. It was a brave decision to include such a character in a game that is focused on story and emotion but I feel Quantic Dream managed to strike the right balance.
The player controls Jodie’s actions via the right stick instead of quick time events which plagued Heavy Rain. It is up to the player to get the movements on the right stick correct or else Jodie will get hit or miss a jump and the scary thing is, the story will continue and adapt to the movements the player makes with the right stick. Any decision the player makes in the game will influence the story. Made a decision you instantly regret? Tough luck, you will have to live with it for the rest of the game. It is the finality of your decisions that makes this game so tense at times and I am thankful that Quantic Dream created no game over screen for Beyond: Two Souls. The problem I found with this game though was, regardless of the choices you made throughout the game the ending was ultimately the same. Unlike Heavy Rain, making a certain decision will not create dire consequences for any of the characters in Beyond: Two Souls. This is a massive disappointment because for a game that is called an interactive drama, there is merely a facade that player choices actually impact the end of the game.
Beyond: Two Souls is a game that people will hate and that people will love. It is a marvel of technicality with some of the best graphics and animations ever seen in the video game industry. Characters that display life-like emotions thanks to the wonderful talents of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. It is the drama part where the game takes a big hit. The story is confusing and disjointed most of the time but there are pockets of brilliance to be seen in some scenes. The script is good but it can’t compete with the movie industry unfortunately. Beyond: Two Souls needs to be played not for the disjointed story but for the characters, the relationships, the emotion and the stunning visuals that is present throughout the entirety of the game. Quantic Dream understand emotion and they understand presentation, they just need to improve storytelling and they are on to a winner. It isn’t the swan song of the PlayStation 3 we were all expecting but if you are looking for something unique with an original story and characters, look no further than Beyond: Two Souls.