A review of the Quantic Dream’s title Beyond: Two Souls for the Playstation 3.
A reminder before you scroll down that I do not give scores to titles in my reviews due to my belief that games as well as any forms of media are more than a number and instead should be understood in their whole. If you’re looking for otherwise, I’d recommend a cold read of the title (if my review is positive that is!)
I should note before further deliberation that I did not technically play the game myself. Or at the least, not fully in the traditional sense. Instead, I took an approach that I would recommend to any who would come across this title. However, as such there is a certain perspective that must be read from and understood as you continue this review.
Instead of playing the game by myself, I opted to instead play the game cooperatively with my sister, Asia, in the game’s Duo game mode. In this game mode, two players can play through the story together. The game allows for this by allowing for each player to control one of the two “characters” (more on this later) that are the namesake of the game. One player plays as the heroine of the title, Jodi, while the other plays as the spectral being connected to her, Aiden. By using the Triangle button, the two players can opt to manually switch roles as well as automatically during certain story sequences. Aiden plays a major role in the progression of the narrative, but, in terms of gameplay he is more of a secondary role. It is in this role that I found myself, allowing my sister to play as Jodi.
This created an interesting role for myself in the game’s scheme. For those in the know, many of Quantic Dream’s previous titles such as Heavy Rain are less reliant on gameplay and are constructed more as interactive dramas in the vein of cinema. Much of the game of Beyond itself is relegated to cinematics and narrative progression rather than typical gameplay. I will touch upon this more later, but it is important to note that much of the game is not actual gameplay itself. When playing as Aiden, the small slice of game time played is lesser than that of Jodie’s part, although much more action and reaction-focused. Aiden often is used as a tool to allow for Jodi to access different areas or solve puzzles. It is in this role that I recommend that many experienced players to play the game.
I emphasize experienced merely to distinguish the variance in different duos playstyles. My sister plays games very little, often I am her only gateway into the video gaming world (having played titles such as Heavy Rain, Tales of Xillia, and Kingdom Hearts with her). The role that Jodi plays in much of the game is dialogue choice and quick-time events, parts of the game where you must press certain buttons or, if you’re familiar with Heavy Rain, move the joystick in certain fashions. Much of this gameplay is simple and requires little challenge for a more experienced player. Especially if you set the initial setting to I don’t play video games very often (The other option being the opposite). As such, I certainly recommend playing through this game with a less experienced player. I don’t believe playing with a player of equal skill will be any less fun, but, I think it is a great way to connect with someone who isn’t necessarily as adept at video games and explore the narrative world together. I would refrain from giving all the answers and solutions to the other player and instead sit back and enjoy the adventure together. Let them make all the dialogue decisions and let them figure out where to walk to next. Maybe give them a nudge every now and then, like I did, but let the other player have their turn, and when you’re needed or you think it might be a good time to go into Aiden mode, take control. Let them experience their part too. It’s also interesting to play along with the choices someone else made or to come together for important decisions and quickly make snap decisions together. It definitely was a bonding experience for my sister and I.
This game is also a great choice for this type of bonding as well. The game focuses on the life of Jodie Holmes, a girl born with a supernatural sensitivity. Since birth, she has found herself with the ability to sense the supernatural. On top of that, a spirit-of-some-sort she names Aiden is inexplicably connected to her for reasons unknown. He, in a poltergeist-fashion, has the ability to interact with the world in a physical manner. The game begins with a monologue as a prologue. Jodie thrusts you into the mysterious world of Beyond: Two Souls by explaining that even she doesn’t quite know what has happened anymore. She says that she must put everything in order herself before she knows what she can do next. In this, the game sets you through a series of vignettes strewn across a timeline of Jodie’s life, bit-by-bit exploring the events of the game in the diegetically-explained recalling of her life.
This is one of the most beautiful set-ups and hallmarks of the game, I can tell you now. Each section is both similar and different. They explore a variety of different parts of her life and do an incredible job of portraying that. You’ll see Jodie at different ages as such you’ll see the world around her change. One moment, she looks like a cute young girl, the next an injured and on-the-run fugitive, and then one-eighty into a emo-dressed teenager. The storytellers of Quantic Dream know how to show in such detail that this isn’t just an adventure. This is someone’s life. It has ups and downs and doesn’t always fit the status quo of what an action story or drama needs to be according to plot structure. Without giving too many plot details away, I’ll say there is an amazing composition of narrative here. Not only that, the use of juxtaposition of action excitement and dramatic tension from set piece to set piece is absolutely genius. Nothing less than what I would expect of Quantic Dream.
The gameplay when compared to their previous titles is much more simplified. The game relies a lot on its narrative and so much less on its gameplay than in their previous title Heavy Rain. In Heavy Rain, much of the game relied on environmental storytelling and exploration of space. In this title, however, the game is very much on-rails. The game guides you from each position in the game to the next. For some, this may be a downside of the game. It removed a lot of the exploratory options that the previous title offered in lieu of a more guided experience. Some might say this makes it less of a game and more of a movie. I don’t think of it this way, because it still has its pros as well. Due to the more “funneled” experience, the game benefits from being much more contextualized, plot-driven, and dramatic. It doesn’t rely on the tough decisions that the last game needed because the tension is much more real. It’s less about the discovery options and more about the tense experience of Jodie’s life. It’s her experience induced rather than the crafting of one’s own. Plus as I said before, being put on the back-burner and watching the few decisions that can be made being made by your partner is definitely an interesting and worthwhile experience.
The gameplay is also very contextualized by the narrative. When you are fighting in different parts of the game, there is this real sense that you are a different Jodie. When Jodie knows how to fight in one arc, but is struggling for life in the next, the game does a great job of explaining why. Because of the out-of-order delivery of the timeline of Jodie’s life, there isn’t just a progression of character, but also a regression. This helps solidify this as a story across time of one person’s life and removes a lot of ludonarrative dissonance created by set pieces in other games. I won’t say there aren’t a few plot holes here and there, but overall, I felt myself thoroughly understanding and accepting of the world and game logic in Beyond: Two Souls. It made me believe in what was presented in front of me even if it didn’t make any sense otherwise. Any great magician knows, this is the key to magic.
The gameplay itself is fairly simple and relies on simple puzzle-solving and decision-making. The camera often guides the player (although I’ll admit my sister got lost a couple times and so did I). It won’t be too difficult for most any player. One thing that should definitely be noted is that it isn’t merely a cinematic experience. Although, the game features a small amount of gameplay, that slice allows for the player(s) to immerse themselves more in the experience because it helps to solidify the position of the player. Not only are they are a participant in this world, not merely a viewer, but also, they learn to experience Jodie’s life through the experience of being her rather than merely the telling itself. This is one of the benefits of a video game that can only be experienced through a video game. The immersive factor of interactivity. In this, Beyond: Two Souls does a phenomenal job and should be commended greatly.
The game definitely relies a lot more on the journey rather than each particular event themselves, but that isn’t to say the game doesn’t have a lot of variety. It may not make complete sense, but the game jumps around through a lot of different locales and a great cast of characters. Some are very two-dimensional and not as fleshed out (the Navajo ranchers) and some try to make you love them when you don’t (Ryan), but others are generally very well-developed and actually pretty meaningful. Jodie and the two scientists that take care of her are prime examples and easily the best characters in the game. Even Aiden in his shroud of mystery is an interesting character on his own when you take the time to think about his place in all of this.
The talents of Ellen Page and William Dafoe, of Juno and Spider-Man fame, each respectively, are not lost in any of this either. I would say their acting abilities definitely show within their characters. The design and soundscape created by Quantic Dream is spot-on brilliant as ever, as should be expected of a cinematic experience.
Overall, the game is a tremendously tension-filled thrill-ride and something that I think should be shared. It’s something that is easily experienced with another and, for my fellow connoisseurs of narrative, something that I think definitely should be looked at as a fine display of in games. It definitely has its downsides, but is an experience that I think is overlooked and underrated. I truly believe this should be played by anyone with an interest in video game storytelling and unique narrative delivery. As well as other Quantic Dream titles.
Oh, and yeah. The Green Goblin is still totally the Green Goblin.