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Beyond: Two Souls (PS3) Review

 
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At A Glance...
 

Formats: Playstation 3
 
Genre: , , ,
 
Year:
 
Publisher:
 
Developer:
 
Final Score
8.0
8/ 10


User Rating
no ratings yet

 

We liked?


  • Phenomenally well acted and delivered for the format
  • Silly, flawed but enjoyable sci-fi horror story that could easily be a lost Fringe episode
  • Wonderful score and use of music throughout
  • A unique and evocative co-op play mode
  • Unique and genre defining in almost every sense

Not so much?


  • Graphical glitches persist that can break immersion
  • Non-Chronological story telling will put off some
  • Game is not for everyone and will cater to a certain audience
  • Control issues and camera issues crop up from time to time


Final Fiendish Findings?

Beyond: Two Souls should be considered a triumph by David Cage and his team over a Quantic Dream. Never before has drama, emotion and passion been expressed so well in a video game. This persistence within their niche genre, interactive drama, has paid off here.

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Posted October 15, 2013 by

 
Full Fiendish Findings...
 
 

Beyond: Two Souls might, at first glance, seem like the logical extension of Heavy Rain, Quantic Dreams’ previous title for Playstation 3. What is actually on offer is a slightly more advanced take on the interactive drama genre with some surprisingly pleasing results.

In Beyond: Two Souls you follow the life story so far of Jodie. A young woman with an extraordinary companion. You see Jodie is accompanied constantly by an entity known only as Aiden. He’s always been with her. Since she was a baby Aiden has been there helping and hindering in equal measures.

Taken from her parents as a young girl Jodie is confined to the care of the DPA (Department of Paranormal Activity). She is studied and analysed by her two assigned department operatives. She quickly forms bonds with the pair looking to the Nathan, played by Willem Dafoe, as the father figure she never had.

As we progress through chapters of Jodie’s life we are bounced around her early years, teenage years, early adult hood and her present day situation. It’s a massively entwined story that Quantic just about pulls off

The main bug bear for many will be the method of delivering the story. Rather than a linear progression the team have chosen to play back key segments of Jodie’s life via an almost flashback like method. It’s reminiscent of how the team at Ubisoft deal with the memory sequences in Assassin’s Creed but a little more scatological.

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Initially these broken fragments spread throughout her life can be frustrating. You just start to get to know young Jodie and then you’re thrown in to CIA era Jodie. Stick with it though and as more segments fill in you begin to get a much fuller understanding of who Jodie is and exactly what she’s been through.

Graphically the game ranges from the sublime to the mundane. Certain textures, lighting and shadow effects are best described as rough. This is not true wholesale though and seems to be isolated to certain scenes or missions. For instance later in the game Jodie walks in to Nathan’s office and the room is dimply lit in golden and soft brown tones. Jodie however looks like a cardboard cut out against the scene managing to not blend with the lighting at all.

Strange little things like that can be jarring at times – possibly because so much else about the games looks is spot on. Close up is where Quantic’s engine does its best work. Looking closely at a characters face, or how something animates can at times be spell bindingly good. Overall the small inconsistencies and graphical quirks don’t detract from what is a great looking game.

Audio wide the game is more than strong – in fact it might just have one of the most accomplished soundtracks of any game. It elevates scenes from run of the mill to something TV or movie worthy. Soaring scores, fast paced chase music, foreboding atmospherics – Beyond: Two Souls gets them all right and it does it with real panache.

Voice work in Beyond: Two Souls is incredibly good – almost perfect in fact. Each and every actor, be they stars like Ellen Page or Mr Dafoe, or the character actors lending life to sub-characters, all perform above and beyond what might have previously been expected in a video game. Performance capture is put to phenomenally good use with the small flourishes of body language or the crease in an expression all adding to the acceptance of these characters. Script work is adequate for the task at hand and the story would pass inspection sat alongside an episode of Fringe or Heroes.

Mechanically is where Beyond: Two Souls is either for you or not. It simply will divide the audience down the middle with very few being in the “yeah I kinda like it” camp come the end.  You see Beyond: Two Souls is barely a video game in the traditional sense.  Sure you have a few puzzles and sequences to solve but you’re basically just facilitating the progression of a story.  This is where the label “interactive drama” seems more appropriate than the label of “video game”.

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Titles like Uncharted or The Last Of Us manages to walk the line of interactive drama and video game better than most.  It still manages to play and work like a traditional video game would, just with large layers of dialogue and cinematics to drive the story along.  Beyond: Two Souls isn’t quite the same.  You control Jodie for the most part and use her to investigate a series of scenes from her life.   You have the freedom to move around the environments and investigate things that become highlighted using the right stick to gesture in that direction.  These interactions can be as simple as looking at an object closer or performing a specific puzzle function like opening a door.

As with Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls uses a simplified control system that is mostly reliant on quick time like events to get you through every situation.  Unlike Heavy Rain though, Beyond: Two Souls has an interesting and fluid combat system.  Here an attacker will come towards you and the action will slow down.  You then press the right analogue stick in the correct direction, for example down to avoid a punch.  You do the same for an attack.  Jodie will move towards an adversary and time will slow once again.  You then have to move the stick in the direction the blow will travel.  This method is surprisingly effective even though it’s incredibly simple – it can also be a little frustrating at times with directions not clear.  The same dynamic is used to avoid environmental obstacles like jumping over tree stumps or diving out of the way of exploding machinery.

As well as controlling Jodie you also get to take control of Aiden.  Here you guide the entity around the landscape of the level.  Aiden, not being bound by an earthly body, can go through pretty much any objects in the level – I say pretty much all because sometimes you’re prevented from going certain ways by the level design constraints.  Moving around as Aiden is simple enough and offers the more puzzle element to the game – often you must use one of Aiden’s skills – telekinesis, mind control, Darth Vader throat crush force moves etc – to overcome obstacles or defend Jodie from attackers.  For instance in one section Jodie is surrounded by armed forces, she is injured and unarmed and calls on Aiden to protect her.  You zip around the area, flipping over cars with your telekinesis, choking out guards or taking control of weak minded others and have them gun down their buddies.  It keeps things interesting and varies the game play.

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It also manages to provide a unique two player element to the game.  You see you can choose to travel Jodie and Aiden’s path with a partner.  One of you will control Jodie and the other Aiden. It might make for a more simplified experience for each player but, with the right level of interaction and commitment it can spark debate about the correct course of action to take and in some cases lead to disappointment that a certain action was undertaken by the other party.  This emphasises the relationship that Aiden and Jodie would actually be having – no doubt having similar debates and discussion outside the fish-eye lens of the game’s camera.

The game has its flaws and no mistaking.  The constant bound around the storyline in the early stages when you’re trying to understand Jodie and the others is off putting and will deter some from progressing.  Having used the exact same technique when writing my novel, Peripheral, I sympathise with David Cage here.  The actual method can be an exciting change of pace for the reader/gamer – the problem is I’m not convinced on its applicability to the video game medium.  You see it used in books and it works.  In Beyond: Two Souls it almost causes the wheels to fall off before things really get going.  Stick out the first 3 or 4 hours though and the characters and events start to slot in to place nicely.

The story might not hold everyone’s attention.  It’s a little weak in places and the dialogue goes a little off the rails at a few places.  Jodie also appears to constantly be crying – so much so I started to wonder if they just wanted to demonstrate their tear-tech (tm? – I kid!).  Controls can be a little frustrating at times and the camera can end up in some very limited and restricted places.  There can also be a few nasty cases of textures suddenly popping in to a level quite a few seconds after a level has started.  Once a mountain suddenly appeared in the background several seconds after the level had started.  Small niggles but they all add to events that can and will break your immersion in the game world.

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Final nod must go to the games use of choice.  The game is impossible to fail – I simply never met a “game over” screen.  Instead each scenario can have a certain number of outcomes.  Do X, Y & Z and the game plays out in one way.  Mess up X and Y and then Z may never happen, again leading to the game playing out in a slightly different way.  These choices are usually subtle and dependant on how you do at tasks in a segment.  The actual impact might not be clear until much later in the game – or sometimes not until a second or third play through.

Other choices ARE more obvious and here the game doesn’t always do the best job.  There is a straight up Deus Ex: Human Revolution / Mass Effect 3 like A/B/C/B type choice in the game at one point that flat out felt cheap.  For the most part though these are subtle and well handled.  It is weird though that at times you can literally have no involvement in the onscreen action yet your character still survives and progresses.  Once such part if when Jodie is fleeing on a motorbike she’s just stolen through a dark and winding forest road.  Simply hit accelerate and sit back – Jodie will just bouncy off the road sides and keep on going for you.

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Final Thoughts

 

Beyond: Two Souls should be considered a triumph by David Cage and his team over a Quantic Dream.  Never before has drama, emotion and passion been expressed so well in a video game.  This persistence within their niche genre, interactive drama, has paid off here.

The voice and performance capture work are some of the best in the industry – at that includes heavily motion captured movies too!  The expressive looks and nuances of movement that can be conveyed with each character are unlike most any other game you’ll find.

The story is riddled with holes, self-indulgent in places and more than crosses the line on suspension of disbelief yet is still manages to captivate and take you along for the ride.  Jodie is a fascinating character, more textured and realised that almost any other game character to date.  Her story is entertaining right up to the credits roll.

There are problems here and there with textures popping in late, controls being a little wild and that out of sequence story telling but none of them will detract from your enjoyment if you give Beyond: Two Souls a chance to capture you.

Beyond: Two Souls is not a game for everyone.  You have to be willing to invest in a certain brand of interactive media and be looking for something completely different to most things you’ve played before.  Many won’t see the point.  Many will play the demo and think the game is shallow and boring.   Those that do appreciate this kind of game, or those that persevere through those early hours will find something more than a little special lurking there in the shadows.


Zeth

 
Zeth is our EU ninja and Editor in Chief. He's been writing about video games since 2008 when he started on BrutalGamer. He's pretty old and has been a gamer since he played Space Invaders as a young boy in the 80's. His genre tastes lean towards platformers, point-and-click adventure, action-adventure and shooters but he'll turn his hand to anything.