Developer: Quantic Dream
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Platform: PS3 Exclusive
Price: £39.99 (Standard Edition) – £44.99 (Special Edition)
The story of BEYOND: Two Souls has you playing as a woman called Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page) who is far from ordinary, as she has a strange spectral being attached to her called Aiden. This spirit can help her solve problems, protect her when she’s in danger or just mischievously throw random objects around, as well as assisting Jodie with progressing the story through a unique interaction mechanic.
Like Heavy Rain the controls to this experience are not reliant on the usual control pad gymnastics of most action adventure games, making them welcoming to those not familiar with a DualShock3. Instead you are taught fairly early on what can be interacted with as a glowing white orb works as your prompt. Jodie is navigated with the left stick and the camera with the right, a directional tap on the right stick is generally the go to control for action. Later within the game, combat is introduced which is performed via Jodie performing context sensitive Quick Time Event (QTE) movements with the right stick. Aiden, her not of this world pet poltergiest is controlled in First-Person and isn’t impeeded by the physical relm (with certain restrictions). Having no substance he can defy gravity and float through objects but is limited in ranged as he’s teathered to Jodie. Giving him the ability to observe and interact with situations Jodie isn’t a party to, which can reveal some very interesting additional narrative. He has the power to move objects, interact with humans by possessing them or by killing them. This is achieved using the L1 button to lock on to targets and movements with both analogue sticks, eg pulling both sticks downwards and to build power to a force push then releasing. This mechanic is a bit clunky in parts and not always abvious as to which way you need to swing the sticks.
My first play through and the reason this review is delayed was done with my non-gaming girlfriend who assisted me on my first Heavy Rain play through as a couch coach. As a brilliant move by Quantic Dream she’s no longer a passive participant but played through the whole game with me thanks to The BEYOND: Two Souls Touch App (available on Android and iTunes).
Taking the lead, she started our game as Jodie on our Galaxy Tab 10.1 and I used my pad as Aiden. She picked up the controls quickly and without much effort but found navigation of walking a bit awkward. Partly due to not being able to walk and look at the time, and not being a gamer understanding the excessive use of invisible barriers this game contains.
I’ve also played through a tandem Single-player story just to make different choices to her and found the collision detection down right poor in parts, whilst also discovering different minor events. The game seems to control well with the tablet and my girlfriend has done better than me during the QTE fights stroking the tablet’s screen in the required on screen prompted directions.
The story has a broken narrative structure with it being played out over 15 years of Jodie’s life. Sometimes as a young girl coming to terms with her ethereal passenger / invisible best friend. At other’s she’s far older, I found this bouncing about very jarring but did start to understand it’s purpose, yet it also appears done without adequate explaination. There’s a chapter fairly early in the game where my girlfriend made an observation “You can tell this wasn’t written by a woman.” I asked why? “Because a woman in full make up wouldn’t splash water on her face to deal with a bloody nose.” There are other situations which feel poorly written but I won’t go in to them for fear of spoilers, but on a whole it’s an engaging story that you want to see through to it’s conclusion, which sadly falls dramatically short. The demo did a superb job of hiding a substantial part of the story that I didn’t expect, which adds an rather intriguingly tense aspect. There are some incrediblely well conceived ideas and some very adult themes, including choices on killing people. There’s a relationship at a certain point feels very forced and unconvincing, but not as much as the unpleasantly uncomfortable sex scene in Heavy Rain. There are some really emotional sections, that if they don’t have an impact on your feelings, then you are a heartless monster. This is greatly aided by an impressive musical score and some highly profession voice acting, that immerses you within the world that you inhabit through out this experience.
Visually this game is absolutely incredible, the performance of the actors really comes across thanks to the mo cap. Quantic Dream seem to be getting closer to the uncanny valley and have improved immensely since Heavy Rain, as the eye’s no longer look oddly disembodied. It’s still not quite there but graphically it’s certainly the height of this generation. The variety of the chapters is a really clever way of showing off the incredible game engine, the final chapter has particle effects I’ve never seen before. I have a few minor issues that include the fact that the characters don’t appear to be interacting with the surface there walking on, it’s not as bad as floor surfing but it’s a bit of a shame. I also encountered a looping visual prompt error that made me laugh.
The simplicity of the controls is a double edge sword, at times it’s easy to miss places of interaction or as none gamers to feel lost as to where to go next, this does add a level of replayability. The prompts for players using tablets are more pronounced but more intrusive during fighting sequences.
The fragmented story also has some pacing issues, early on you’re taught a stealth mechanic but you don’t actually use it for about two hours after learning it. For none gamers this very disheartening and daunting, not such an issue for myself but bad planning in my opinion. The length of some of the chapters is really disproportionate with very short sections, then chapters that wouldn’t have been out of place in an episodic titles like The Walking Dead. I like the nonlinear approach to telling the story but feel like a major section has been missed out, it can also be a bit confusing as it tries to fill in the narrative. The fact this game has numerous endings, is a real reason to go back and play again like Heavy Rain, also the trophies are awarded after chapters to prevent distraction.
As a co-op experience this delivers a uniquely told and intriguing story that can be picked up and experienced by both gamers and non-gamers a like. The graphics are really incredible as are the actors performances even if the script at times feels a little muddled with a far too ambiguous collections of endings. As a story in it’s own right has some original and memorable scenes but also some horribly delivered situations. It’s an easier to achieve Platinum than Heavy Rain as our own Platinum Stig can testify by making BEYOND: Two Souls his 101st Platinum Trophy. I have been trying to work out how I score this as a game, as it doesn’t feel anywhere close to being interactive enough. As an interactive drama it certainly proves compelling and has something you don’t get from movies, even if the story is non-sensical in parts. It comes across as very disjointed, but you do feel like you are having an impact on the story especially when you reach your personal journey’s conclusion. I would recommend a rental for this game but can’t recommend dropping full price on BEYOND: Two Souls, as it’s lacking the what made Heavy Rain such a brilliant piece of tense thrilling action. You really should give the demo a try and see what you think to this progressive form of digital entertainment and storytelling.
Connor McKervey (aka VDJOMB)