Developer Quantic Dream is known for creating original, cinematic games. With an extreme focus on storytelling and minimized interruption, they make games into interactive dramas. Breaking onto the scene with Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in the U.S.), they moved onto the PS3 with Heavy Rain and received critical acclaim. Beyond: Two Souls is the latest game from Quantic Dream, featuring a Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe in lead roles, and a supernatural plot.
You play as Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page) and the mysterious entity, Aiden, that has been tied to her since birth. Due to Aiden’s behavior and interaction in the world, Jodie has been raised and studied in government facilities. Under the care of Dr. Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe), Jodie grows older and is eventually drafted into the CIA. While there are many large events that serve as plot points, a major focus is placed on Jodie’s life as a whole. You play particular sequences in Jodie’s life, ranging from her childhood to present day. While you play these sequences out-of-order, the events are shown on a timeline during loading screens, which helps to keep everything straight in your mind.
I have to admit, I really enjoyed the story that Beyond tells. There are some very supernatural instances than can press on your suspension of disbelief, but for each far-fetched event, there is an equally powerful human moment. Beyond balances human connections and emotions, with an otherworldly environment. While there are some unexplained questions and plot holes in the story, I can’t deny Quantic Dream’s ability to create an emotional, gripping plot.
The presence of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe certainly got Beyond a lot of attention, but they both knocked their roles out of the park. Their talent brought life into these lead characters and made the entire game feel much more cinematic. Also, every supporting character was wonderfully voiced and emoted, particularly Cole Freeman (Kadeem Hardison) and Stan (David Coburn). When you combine the top-notch voice acting with a believable, well-written script, you get an immensely immersive experience. If there’s a bar to be set for voice acting in video games, Beyond is raising it.
The actual gameplay of Beyond is very similar to Heavy Rain. When exploring a level, you interact with the world using the right analog stick. Unlike Heavy Rain, the indications of what is interactive is no longer an on-screen instruction for a movement on the analog stick. Instead, Beyond took a much simpler approach, and made the indication a small, white dot. To interact, you move the stick in the direction of the dot. This may be a more streamlined, minimal way to interact with the world, but it made for a more confusing, difficult time when needing precision. Often times, the dot would either be surrounded by others or not in a convenient spot to interact with, forcing you to repeatedly attempt tapping the thumbstick in every direction. I found myself longing for actions being tied to specific stick movements, just so that I could always do what I wanted. A new portion of the gameplay is dedicated to controlling Jodie’s entity, Aiden. When controlling Aiden, you move very similarly to controlling the camera in a theatre mode. Aiden has the ability to fly, move vertically through space, go through walls, obstacles, people, etc.
The action/fighting sequences have changed as well, leaning more towards a HUD-less display. Instead of following on-screen prompts like left or right arrows, you push the stick in the direction that Jodie’s hands or body is moving. This is definitely a natural way to control Jodie, but it runs into the same problems as the rest of the gameplay. Often times, it would seem like Jodie would be moving one way and I would match that, only to be penalized for incorrectly moving. Jodie took a handful of serious beatings, all because I couldn’t figure out which way her leg was moving during the 2 second window. Usually, a couple of errors isn’t a big deal in games, but Quantic Dream is known for having very serious and final consequences when you’re least expecting them. Needless to say, every time I goofed up in an action sequence, my heart sank and I braced myself for a puppy to be killed or a bus full of orphans to crash.
The graphics for both the environment and the character models is stellar, particularly for the face-mapping of Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe. I was surprised when I saw the variety of settings that Beyond takes place in, but each new location is brimming with life and details. The ability to freely explore each area with Aiden allowed the developers to put even more details and objects to interact with. Even though the next generation of consoles is just around the corner, games like Beyond are showing that the PS3 still has plenty of life and power in it.
The biggest flaw of Beyond is the lack of significant choices. Heavy Rain really nailed the feeling of changing the story by making choices and interacting in certain ways. Beyond is more of a linear narrative, with small details that can change depending on your actions. Certain characters can live or die, depending on whether you use Aiden to heal them, but there are very few situations where you actually choose something that can drastically change the course. I can respect their choice to tell a story and stick to it, but they could have made your interactions much more meaningful.
Beyond: Two Souls was a phenomenal story, wonderfully acted, and beautifully animated. There are things they could have added that would have made the experience feel more complete, but it would just be improving on an already great story. Even if you’re not into cinematic games, there’s no reason why anyone with a PS3 shouldn’t at least play this once. The trophy list encourages multiple playthroughs, in order to experience every possibility that is tucked away in the game. Beyond: Two Souls may not be the best game Quantic Dream has created, but it is still an incredibly unique experience that will keep you coming back.
I give Beyond: Two Souls 4 “Awkward Dates” out of 5
By Blake Edwards