Beyond : Two Souls Review
Cart: Beyond Two Souls
Coin: Quantic Dream
For a videogame about two souls, it is perhaps fitting that it really does turn out to be a game of two halves. One brilliant, the other not quite as good. Luckily, it is the brilliant bits that will stick in your mind, rather than the less than perfect sections.
Far more than an interactive movie, Beyond: Two Souls points to one possible future for video games, a future of genuine story telling of the kind that neither book or movie can tell. It may be trite to say that it fills this gap by simply being longer than a film and shorter than a book, as is actually the gaming element that brings the story to life, in a way that Quantic Dream’s previous game, Heavy Rain, never did.
Whereas Heavy Rain was simply a banal, yet beautiful exercise in QTE’s with mild graphic adventure overtones, Beyond: Two Souls is a little cleverer in its general play. The QTE’s are kept strictly to the mundane exploration parts, with the right stick controlling attack and defence in the action scenes. Yes, these parts are simply the same dog with a different coat, but the new method takes you into the action far more than having X and O popping up ever could, and feels far more elegant, even if it really isn’t.
The tech here is incredible
You control two characters for the majority of the game. Jodie, played by Ellen Page, in the traditional 3rd person scenes, and Aiden, an entity forever attached to Jodie, in a float-around-the-room free form first person viewpoint. Most of the time, you can switch between the two at will, with Aiden able to float through walls to reach areas unreachable by Jodie. It is this mechanic that forms the basis for both the gameplay and the story, and it is both interesting and unique to play.
The story is told in a series of flashbacks that fill in a timeline that grows over time. Quantic Dream jump from one end to the other with frequency, showing us Jodie as both a small child and as a grown woman as she goes through a number of ordeals with Aiden. Some of these chapters are tiny vignettes, but some last many hours, and they all vary in quality. There are some incredible chapters, like the one set in the desert and one thrilling stage that sees Jodie escaping through dark woods from the authorities until she holes up in a small town and lets us really play with Aiden’s powers. In this brilliant level we get to cause utter chaos, throwing cars around, forcing cops to kill one another and generally laying the whole town to waste.
The game does get let down by the final chapters, becoming far too generic with typical end of the world stuff, and I would have preferred to have stayed in Jodie’s past far more, and I would also have liked to have spent more time with her when she was on the run. It is telling that, in a game of unexplained monsters, it is a scene where Jodie strays into a dodgy bar that is the most tense and gruelling. I think Quantic Dream could have cut the finale altogether and left Jodie and Aiden wandering in the wilderness, but I guess the pressure of creating a game for the Gears of War generation was disappointingly, too much to resist.
One of the more action packed levels
It is strange to say, but Beyond: Two Souls’ killer feature is an actress. Ellen Page is on fine form, with a genuine and heartfelt performance that, combined with QD’s simply stunning facial technology, creates a likeable character that is at once tough yet vulnerable. The subtlety of her performance is incredible, and it is made all the more incredible when you consider the fact that she has to play her character as a child, an adolescent and as an adult. Page is a joy to watch.
Gameplay wise, this plays like a mildly diverting graphic adventure, but the addition of the first person Aiden parts are what really hold the interest. You are in effect, a poltergeist, able to break windows, set off alarms, kill people and even control them like puppets, and Quantic Dream plays to this perfectly, with some charming moments sitting alongside some more disturbing uses of the entity. The only thing that the developer doesn’t use Aiden for is real puzzles.
With his ability to float through walls and trip switches, there is massive potential for puzzling here, but, in the entire game there is not one puzzle or anything more than the most basic of problem solving. There is one section, right near the end of the game, where you have to make a noise to draw a guard nearer- why is the whole game not filled with moments like this? It is especially galling when you see Aiden lift and carry things in cutscenes; something you are unable to do in-game.
Still, like I said at the start of the review, it won’t be the lack of challenge and puzzles, or the banal finale that you will remember, but the rest of the game, which is stunning, and filled with memorable scene after memorable scene, and of course, that incredible performance from Ellen Page.
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Editor and founder of VoxelArcade and The Smartphone App Review. Favourite games: Uridium 2, Frontier: Elite II, Sensible World of Soccer, Far Cry 3, Zelda: Ocarina, Metroid Prime, Solar Quest, F-Zero GX, Monkey Island 2 and Tetris.