Beyond: Two Souls represents a shift in the gaming medium, from standard visits to other worlds into story-driven spectacles, complete with Hollywood actors and incredible visuals, but does it hold it together long enough to be considered one of the PS3’s greats?
Jodie Holmes is a girl with strange and enigmatic psychic abilities, achieved through a spirit named Aiden, who has been tethered to her soul since birth. As well as creating interesting gameplay opportunities as you control both Aiden and Jodie, this paves the way for a plot sprinkled with mystery, intrigue and a heavy dose of the supernatural.
Perhaps the first thing to make note of is just how unlike a game Beyond can feel at times. With Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in leading roles, alongside a supporting cast of lesser-known actors who still put on great performances, this is as close to Hollywood as games have ever reached. So, when you’re told to press a button on the controller, it comes as quite a shock at first, though you’ll soon get to grips with the gameplay.
Beyond truly is a stunning spectacle in terms of visuals; as we approach the eve of the PlayStation 4, it’s genuinely an awe-inspiring sight, with Quantic Dream pushing the PS3 to its limits, crafting something more believable than anything in gaming before it, and ultimately blurring the lines between CGI movies and video games. Solid textures, animation which is unmatched in the field and effects which will make every attempt to blow you away are all at the heart of the title.
While the frame rate may drop, and some sections might not be quite up to scratch at times, the visuals are easily the best thing that Beyond has going for it, representing Page and Dafoe marvellously across various points of their life, which is something that even movie studios may have a hard time replicating.
It’s just unfortunate that in almost every other way, despite the acting talent and visual grunt on show, Beyond either falters at points or fails entirely. With an incredibly jumbled story, almost amateur writing and some cumbersome controls among lengthy sequences which drag on for far too long, Beyond is a lesson in how a nonsensical narrative can make something with as high production values as this feel utterly average in its execution.
From the beginning, the non-linear narrative is an extraordinarily and unnecessarily convoluted affair, as you skip back and forth in time between points in Jodie’s life. You’d expect that as you progress, things would come more clear, but these constant jumps only serve to make the plot even less coherent, and it’s something that a loading screen which shows where you are in the grand scheme of things cannot fix.
This leads to a few sections that really do manage to shine on their own, but feel entirely disjointed from the rest of the game. There’s not much here that will hold your interest in the long-term, barely anything that isn’t predictable and forced moments of drama which often feel unnecessarily shoehorned in permeate the title.
Beyond Touch App
- Beyond is joined by a mobile companion app, allowing you to interact with the game without the need for a DualShock. It’s a novel idea, and one which is responsive enough, but leaves you having to look at your device’s screen to see where the face buttons are represented. It truly feels like an entirely pointless and counterintuitive venture.
David Cage’s shoddy writing is reflected throughout the dialogue too, with moments that feel entirely out of place. Despite the different environments, it pulls the same tricks far too many times, with Jodie and Aiden facing too many similar situations, where choices are often undermined by pre-set plot points, some of which you may have already experienced due to the disjointed narrative.
It’s not just that narrative, but the fact there are far too many discrepancies which really don’t add up in the end, with some real-world considerations thrown out of the window. It just doesn’t come together at any point, often throwing in even more unnecessary characters and mysteries for no good reason.
If you’ve ever played Heavy Rain, then you’ll know what to expect going into Beyond in terms of controls; there are the face buttons to select dialogue options when presented with an opportunity, and even frantic taps of those buttons during quick time event sequences. While there are some more traditional game mechanics to be found, as well as a lot of sections which require flicking of the right stick rather than your traditional button-based QTEs, the gameplay is marred by clunky controls, which really detracts from the experience.
Controlling Aiden is neat though, as you float around unseen, interacting with objects and being quite malevolent at times. Even though he’s an extension of Jodie, Aiden feels like his own character, and it’s ultimately you that controls them both distinctly, having to manipulate a situation based upon your own mood.
This creates the opportunity for a co-operative mode featuring both characters, allowing one player to play as Jodie and another to control Aiden. Essentially all this does is change the controller when you switch characters, leaving the other person to watch. It’s not anything particularly amazing, but when combined with the mobile application, it could offer the opportunity to extend the experience to those who aren’t particularly fans of games.
Aiden is certainly an interesting concept, and one of the better mechanics of Beyond, with possession, distraction and plenty of other ghoulish traits coming into play. Ultimately, this plays straight into the more horror-inspired sections of the game, which are great in their own right and at times downright scary; it feels as though the game would have worked much better as a dedicated horror title.
But these great moments are few and far between, and at its heart Beyond is all about the drama. Emotionally, the game fails to engage at crucial moments, and doesn’t feel as impactful as previous efforts, even Cage’s work with Heavy Ran. Despite the great performances from a suitable cast, the poor scripting really detracts from the experience, and will lead you to question a lot of the design choices; even slightly picking apart the game will lead you to seeing that there isn’t really much special about it.
The choice system doesn’t work very well, either, as selections that you make within the time you’re given don’t always match up with what the character says, or what you want to say. While wrong choices may have led to consequence in Heavy Rain, the nature of Beyond means that there’s no real penalty for selecting a “wrong” option, and the pre-set plot points often mean that outcomes lead nowhere, with only choices towards the end of the game really making a difference to the story.
That story is a puzzle missing a lot of the pieces; it’s as if Cage had a great idea in his mind, but when pen came to paper, he left a lot of gaps in the plot. While this may not have been apparent to him, when presented to the player it becomes an incoherent mess of ideas thrown together in the wrong order, completely missing the mark.
It’s just such a shame that there are genuinely good aspects surrounding the poor core, as the music from Hans Zimmer shows. This is used perfectly at times to create tension, ramp up the action or evoke emotion, feeling completely realised in comparison to the shoddily crafted story and clumsy gameplay, which are essential in the development of a great video game.
Beyond is a tale of squandered potential. With acting talent such as Page and Dafoe on board, music from legendary composer Hans Zimmer and visuals that give the PS4 launch line-up a run for their money, it’s such a shame that when it comes down to it, the incompetent story and poor gameplay mechanics leave a lot to be desired.
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