Beyond: Two Souls is a story-rich game from Quantic Dreams studio starring one of my favorite actors Elliot Page and Willem Dafoe whom I'm fond of too. It tells a story of Jodie (Page), a girl that was born with a 'gift' - an invisible entity named Aiden. Being special with such an entity around her, it's no surprise that she was experimented on and it was the government that wanted to use her and find the connection to the world from where the entity belongs to while she just hoped for a normal life. It seems obvious to me that the story was created to make us ponder about what lies beyond death but it seemed to miss the mark (for me at least).
The game is scripted which is no surprise since it is more of an interactive movie that was directed by David Cage. Cage has wonderful ideas but turning then into a masterpiece probably needs a bit more than one single great mind. You, the player, can play as both Jodie and Aiden. The game asks you in which way you want to experience the game, either chronologically or the way it was originally intended - that is what I chose. Here Jodie tells us that she doesn't know how to start and she may as well begin here. We then get to see a scene where we see her at a police station where a sheriff is trying to find out what happened to her. SWAT team storms the station. We don't see what happens, but we get to see how they all end up - dead with the exception of the sheriff who was kind and tried to help.
After the prologue and this chapter we start to see more from Jodie's life. Each chapter shows a life event from anywhere from her life between the age 8 and 23. The chapters of her life are very different and of a different kind of gravity. While this is something I'd expect, it is also something that made the game very incoherent story wise. I was once at a birthday party being a total clueless outcast and then on a CIA mission. Part of the game seems like a slice of life game, then turns into a drama, horror and then sci-fi.
As for gameplay. Well, there isn't much of it. Most of the time you'll probably watch cinematic scenes. When not, you will be asked to do simple tasks like stand up, grab something, walk or shoot a man. There are no puzzles or things that would stimulate the brain, all you have to do is follow a white dot somewhere on the screen. The other part are quick-time events that are happening during the cutscenes. There is also some combat. The game will slow down during a combat and tell you what button to press or where to move your mouse. It's very hard to say what you are supposed to do, so choosing the right direction is quite a guesswork. No matter how beat up you end up, the game just progresses on. Can you even die since Aiden can heal people?
The controls is something I wouldn't normally comment on, but this game is ported from Playstation and as a PC user you are to use a keyboard and mouse. Moving Jodie was rather difficult since the camera seems to have life of its own and often decides to turn in the opposite direction resulting in you turning twice and watch the camera move just to end up in the same spot you started walking from. When the game goes into slow motion you often need to move your mouse in time to a certain direction as I described before. That alone is quite a mess and if it made actual impact on the story (as in Detroit: Become Human) I'd probably be more negative about this. You move Jodie with A, S, D, W keys but are often asked to press and tap one of the 1,2,3,4 keys which to me felt rather awkward. Moving Aiden is much easier since he can just fly through everything and it switches to first person view. On the other hand using his ability requires you to either align two points at another one, place the two points somewhere specific or just 'charge' the action. When in fight you can get confused about what you are supposed to do. For the first 5 hours I was more or less fine with this, but with each hour that passed it was getting more and more annoying. Especially in sequences that seemed to be timed and you were running for your life.
Aiden apart from flying and going through walls, he can move objects, kill people, control people, heal and protect. Thanks to Aiden Jodie can go through places a normal human being wouldn't be able to which also means that Aiden is the game's Deux Ex machina. Aiden's abilities would be great if they would be the same throughout the whole game since you could count with that and use your logic to solve problems. Unfortunately, that's not true. Sometimes you can roam free and explore a large area, the next time you just can't even go through the first door that is a step away. The fact that you are still always led to a certain action doesn't help it either - there's not much freedom in using Aiden.
Dialogues have choices which is nothing new and is expected in a story-driven game. Your choices can affect the outcome of the story but not much as in Heavy Rain or Detroit: Become Human. There doesn't seem to be much variety in terms of paths throughout the game - the game will simply gravitate towards one similar ending that is not even satisfying since it brings even more questions than it answers. The revelation that you can just simply let go off the controls and just let the game flow made me wonder why this was even produced as a game. It would made a great short TV series. Or a 3 hour movie (8 hours if not edited and released just as it is in the game).
The story is what makes the game and honestly I'm not entirely sure what to think about it. The story is one huge mess that just drags Jodie through her life in which she wants to become normal but is not allowed to. There doesn't seem to be much of character development and many of the situations and dialogues seemed to be forced. The game was probably supposed to provoke deep emotions in us and make us think but unfortunately I couldn't fully immerse myself in the game. Jodie simply wasn't a believable character to me, no matter how great job Elliot did. I couldn't attach to her in any way because everything just screamed - a lie. The controls didn't help it either, the QTEs that felt futile or the frustration with the actual 'game' parts was something that was breaking the story apart too. It broke the tension and flow of it. I could just passively watch while being detached from everything going on in the game. Maybe it was also partly because I wouldn't choose any of the options in the game if it were me in Jodie's position.
As for visuals, the game is stunning. The motion capture they use is one of the best and the graphics is awesome. We get to see different environments, in some we can even roam free for a bit, and that is something great. Unfortunately all we can do is just look at the scenery and walk from given point A to a given point B without any detours. Exploring or interacting is simply not there. The animations and lighting effects are great. The game is one long interactive movie and many of the scenes are done in a way we'd expect from a movie. This makes for a really great scenes that makes us feel emotions we probably wouldn't from a more traditional approach game. The acting is excellent and Elliot Page did a really great job at breathing life into Jodie. Willem Dafoe played well too and even went out of his comfort zone at the end of the game. Unfortunately, the relationship between Jodie and Nathan somehow lost all kind of chemistry, it felt like the actors weren't even present at the same scene when it was shoot. It left me wondering if either of them cared about one another at some point?
This game was one big disappointment. As a movie-like game I expected a very strong and coherent story where every decision mattered, instead I got a very linear and clichéd messy story where I could not even make the decisions that seemed logical and the ones I could choose didn't change the narrative. There was one decision I was allowed to make that I liked - leave everything at the base and leave the past behind. Unfortunately, there was a hop into the future where the items were present again! I also coldly turned Ryan down at every occasion and would actually slap him in the face and to never see him again. Instead the game throws a decision at me stating 'Kiss' at the end (the possibility of taking his life would actually make sense but that option was not there).
From the game play view, this game could be described as follow the white dot or find a blue dot and do something with it. I did not pay 20 bucks for a game in which even walking is a tiresome task. I learned from other games that QTEs can be rewarding or satisfying but in this case they do the opposite most of the time because while they are easy to execute, they are difficult to read. 95% of the times you can just let the game go on without doing a single action (note I mean during the time when you are supposed to play the game), in those 5% that it matters, the decision itself won't matter much.
The story itself is actually good if it would be told in a different way than the two possible ones and would make for a great series or a movie. There is nothing that ties all the memories together and your decisions in the past do not change the outcome of the game (with maybe one exception, Ryan). The controls are so bad that will make you feel frustrated and distract from anything that actually caught your interest or engaged you in the story.
The camera is also something that could use some work, it moves when it shouldn't and there are moments during which it just simply shakes to add some dramatic effect. Unfortunately it made me sick and also made it more difficult to move.
The presentation of the game, graphics, visuals, animation, sound and soundtrack are truly stunning. Same goes to Elliot Page's acting. Without Elliot the game would be most probably lifeless. While I enjoyed the acting of other characters in the game, the characters weren't written in a way that would make them believably human from my point of view.
Obvious plot holes, and the fact I couldn't make decisions or feel like anything I did mattered just made me passively watch the game, not giving me any motivation to attach to the characters, story or even just play the game.
While I managed to find reasons to recommend games I didn't like to other people I just can't find something worth recommending here. It failed me in terms of story and emotions and even in terms of the little game play there is.
Thank you for reading,
Ren (stsungjp on Twitter)