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‘Beyond: Two Souls’ – Video Game Review (Out of This World Story in the Wrong Medium)

For as long as she can remember, Jodie Holmes (Ellen Paige) has had an invisible companion, some otherworldly entity tethered to her that she calls Aiden. While he has a mind and a will of his own, Aiden is bound to Jodie and can grant her extraordinary abilities, allowing her to see what he sees, heal the sick, and channel the dead; he will defend and kill for her, as well. Beyond: Two Souls is the story of Jodie’s extraordinary life from a little girl to a grown woman told in a nonlinear fashion, bouncing back and forth and connecting events, even those separated by over a decade.

The latest project from Quantic Dream, Beyond: Two Souls continues the studio’s trend of creating movie-like games and takes it even further—possibly even too far. There’s no denying that Beyond is a gorgeous game with unbelievable visuals. Each setting is beautifully rendered with tons of detail, and the sound effects and score perfectly suit the mood of any given scene. The beautiful presentation extends into the acting with top notch performance capture of its actors, which includes not just Paige but Willem Dafoe as Dr. Nathan Dawkins, the research scientist and surrogate father to Jodie. Quantic Dream has outdone themselves when it comes to showing the emotions of its characters. Whatever Jodie was feeling at the time – anger, grief, that brief moment of happiness – Paige’s acting won my empathy every time.

Players take on the roles of both Jodie and Aiden, switching back and forth between each of them as the situation requires. Jodie’s sequences typically involve interacting with the environment in set ways and, on rare occasion, selecting how to reply in a conversation. Jodie does find herself in the occasional scrape during which gameplay devolves into periods of slow-motion, where the player needs to move Jodie in the direction she’s going to complete the maneuver, overall pretty basic quick-time event stuff and a step down in interactivity from Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy. As Aiden, players have the ability to move freely three-dimensionally as long as he doesn’t stray too far from Jodie. This makes Aiden the perfect tool for examining the environment. In addition, Aiden can interact with the world, telekinetically throwing and breaking things, possessing people, healing, channeling the dead, and choking the life out of folks.

Overall, I found the mechanics of this game to be a huge let down. Precise movement with Jodie is damn near impossible, making simpler tasks like cooking dinner frustrating while the adrenaline pumping moments are, at times, quite dull. I found myself more often wishing I could set my controller on autopilot, so it would press the necessary buttons and I could get on with watching Beyond as a movie. Controlling Aiden is a blast, at first. Being able to move around freely is a wonderful tool for studying the beautiful world Quantic Dream has crafted, but, like Jodie, controlling Aiden mostly involves finding that one thing you’re allowed to interact with and pressing a button to go to the next cutscene.

Beyond: Two Souls does have co-op play where one player controls Jodie and the other Aiden. This is an interesting execution. Sadly, only one player is in control at any given time, but given the watch-more-than-play nature of the game, the downtime is less noticeable. What is far more interesting is the idea that passing control over to the other player is granting control to another entity who may undo your hard work, let you down, throw a tantrum, or select that dialogue option you didn’t want, which helps to transfer the emotions of Jodie and Aiden onto their players. It’s also worth noting that there is an Android App for Beyond that allows players to turn a smart phone into a second controller. Interestingly, the interface adjusts to suit the new controller. Playing Aiden is nigh impossible in this manner with glowing orange orbs determining the positions he can occupy in a room, which is hard to navigate, especially when in a hurry. I found Jodie far easier to control by phone, with movements nice and fluid, the controls changing to suit the prompts, and, best of all, I found precise movement was much easier by phone.

My favorite thing about Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy was the ability to affect the narrative. I made hard decisions in both of those games; whether being forced to quickly choose a dialogue option or where to hide a murder weapon, I was completely invested. The endings of Heavy Rain felt so well earned after everything the characters had been through. By comparison, due to its back and forth through the years nature, Beyond: Two Souls resets most variables in between chapters. A few choices do carry over, but I can count on one hand the number of times I saw this happen, and I never felt like I was determining Jodie’s fate. She did that on her own. There are different ways to accomplish certain tasks or complete chapters, which are fun to discover, but both options A and B lead to the next bullet point on Jodie’s journey. Interestingly, it’s not even possible to fail in Beyond: Two Souls. The story does fork for some failures, requiring players to get out of a different situation before climbing back on the main story’s path.

While I’m picking on Beyond: Two Souls for letting me down, I’m not saying the story isn’t worth experiencing. I had fun exploring the world and the themes showcased by the game. I always wanted to see where and when the next chapter would take place. Moments in Jodie’s life when she has to deal with the paranormal deepen the mystery further of what’s really going on and learning what Aiden is. And, the mundane moments like attending a party or preparing a romantic evening in and Jodie’s struggle to also live a normal life are touching and painful to watch.

And, there’s something more, too, that Beyond does give players the tools to craft their own narrative even if there isn’t a mechanical representation. How Jodie and Aiden exactly respond to situations is up to the player. Though it can be inconsistent, I drew my enjoyment by playing each character in certain ways. Jodie was a lonely, lost, but clever girl. She desired a normal life and would do anything in her power to get it. Desperate to fit in, she would get herself in over her head a lot of the time but was protective of Aiden and wouldn’t show him off as a cheap party trick. Likewise, Aiden was protective of Jodie, very, very protective. Aiden would assist Jodie when she asked for it, would have the occasional prank, but, overall, was interested in her happiness. But, so help the person who hurt Jodie, physically or emotionally, because my Aiden wouldn’t let up until they seriously regretted their actions.

This is all to say Beyond: Two Souls has the right stuff, but the version we got feels like it should have incorporated more of a reason to be interactive or changed mediums. Personally, my favorite moments in the game are when Jodie is wandering from scenario to scenario, David Banner from The Incredible Hulk style, solving problems and trying to keep her superpowers hidden. I’d love to get some more Jodie and Aiden misadventures as a comic or a web series, and I think a change in delivery would be a good fit.

Cue sad piano music.

Presentation: 10.0, Story: 8.0, Gameplay: 6.0, Overall: 8.0


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