There are few studios that carve out a new genre for themselves but Quantic Dream fit the bill perfectly in that regard. Interactive drama’s may have been around in one form or another for decades but, with David Cage’s vision, the Paris-based development team have brought some truly unique to the stage. 2010’s PlayStation 3 exclusive Heavy Rain may not have been their first mainstream title – following 2005’s positively received Fahrenheit – but the critically acclaimed hit was a breath of fresh air for the current generation and brought a dash of originality and diversity to a market that was brimming with shooter and racers in the triple-A space. Considered one of the PlayStation 3’s twilight games as the dawn of the next-generation is upon us, Beyond: Two Souls is yet another ambitious effort; one that fails to match but equally surpasses Heavy Rain in equal measure.
Beyond is a wonderfully emotive title that has a beautifully told and expressed plot that suffers from occasional blips which both disjoint and fracture the narrative – a similar scenario for the visual appearance. Two Souls teeters on the edge of brilliance, often falling short due to either technical limitations or odd design choices and makes it feel as though this is a game that should have been destined for the PlayStation 4 rather than restricted as it is on the PlayStation 3.
“Beyond: Two Souls is a complex game and one that will clearly divide opinion.”
At times Beyond is a marvel; utterly breath-taking in its beauty, displaying unmatched mo-cap and superb graphical prowess. Unfortunately though, more frequently than one would like, it’s distinctly average and wooden, with the effects not matching the consistent art direction. When those particular scenes happen it is startlingly jarring as the deficiencies are highlighted brighter thanks to the overly impressive looking aspects. Character animations fluctuate in quality, though more often than not are exceptional, as do the environments, post-processing effects, facial animations and character models. Beyond is an ocular masterpiece with occasional dips into mediocrity.
A supernatural narrative that is portrayed in a non-linear fashion, Beyond is an incredibly interesting and wonderfully told tale of the challenging life protagonist Jodie Holmes endures with her strange psychic connection to the mysterious entity named Aiden. Without wanting to dive too deep into the storyline in an effort to avoid spoiling it at all, it’s a turbulent and traumatic experience but also one of love, friendship and kindness. As cliché as it may be, Beyond is a rollercoaster ride for Jodie and one that was terrific to be a part of.
Similar to Heavy Rain, Two Souls feature branching paths in the story whereby elements change subtly or drastically, whereby some scenes you may not see entirely. Unlike Heavy Rain though, the points at which the game branches (other than one or two) are not as clearly defined and it’s ultimately better for it. Not knowing that a particular action will certainly affect what happens makes for a more streamlined and enjoyable story; that being said the effects of those choices, whilst ultimately altering your story and ending, are not as grand as those in Heavy Rain and that is disappointing. Beyond follows a much more stringent narrative with a few paths of deviations, but it never feels as though it’s wildly off course – which is a polar opposite of Heavy Rain.
Control wise it’s what you’d expect from a David Cage title, lots of quick-time events but with consequences for each. Combat is determined by pushing the right analogue stick in the direction that Jodie wants to move, whilst there’s plenty of holding and pressing the face and shoulder buttons to act out a number of tasks. It works well in the context of the interactive drama genre, so to expect anything else would be a little misguided. You can walk around as Jodie at different intervals allowing you to decide what actions to take or in what order depending on what’s required.
Outside of that though is the controlling of Aiden, the free-roaming yet chained entity that is tied to Jodie. By pressing triangle you can switch to Aiden and fly around scouting for enemies, pushing objects, directing memories to Jodie, taking control of people or even killing them. It all works simply enough and adds good variety to the gameplay, but there are plenty of inconsistencies with it. The distance you can travel away from Jodie seems arbitrary and although it’s obviously restricted for either design or technical reasons it can be confusing when suddenly your leash has been shortened considerably. Then there’s your ability to knock objects, which again is restricted to only objects that the narrative allows; as with controlling or killing others – no explanation is given as to why you can only do this to pre-determined characters and feels disharmonious.
As the first videogame to focus so heavily on the Hollywood talents of their stars, Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, Beyond is something of a first – truly an interactive movie. Despite David Cage’s at time woolly dialogue the delivery and quality of the acting is exceptional and a testament to hiring award-winning actors to play the roles of Jodie and Dr. Nathan Dawkins. Succinct facial motion capture helps in their elocution, but it’s still disappointing that this game feels hindered by the PlayStation 3 rather than flourishing on it.
Beyond: Two Souls is a complex game and one that will clearly divide opinion. Those that enjoyed Heavy Rain will likely enjoy David Cage’s latest vision and I’d consider it a must-play for most. It’s without doubt a flawed title, with a few graphical issues, a plot misstep here and there, and an occasionally too passive control mechanism, but it’s a tremendous effort that nearly hits the heights of greatness. Scenes will terrorise you, make you bond with Jodie, feel for her suffering and marvel at her power. Beyond may represent a lot of squandered potential, but the powerful score from Lorne Balfe and Hans Zimmer, incredibly visuals and moving storyline are all excellent aspects that make it well worth your time.