Review of Beyond: Two Souls from Sony
There are only two games on the PS3 that I have ever turned on for the first time and finished without ever turning them off. The first was Metal Gear Solid 4. The other is Beyond: Two Souls. It’s very difficult to be unbiased and completely indifferent when it comes to a Quantic Dream game. I was also a fan of Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in the USA) and Heavy Rain so my enjoyment of Beyond came as no surprise.
Quantic Dream take a different approach to most when making games and as such I’m going to take a slightly different approach to my review. Largely because deciding what criteria to judge a game like Beyond on is very difficult. Many decide that comparing one of Quantic’s action sequences to that of an action game is a good idea. And come to the rather obvious conclusion that the action game is better at action and punish Beyond accordingly. If we’re going to do this, we may as well compare peanuts to a lettuce. Most of us will struggle to score the lettuce in reference to the peanut without basically just referring to personal opinion.
So please bear in mind that if you don’t want an interactive narrative like previous Quantic Dream games that Beyond is not going to change your mind. Just like the next CoD or Battlefield aren’t going to appeal to those who don’t like FPS’s, regardless of how good they are. It’s unfair to punish Beyond with a low score just because of its genre, despite the fact most reviews will, so I’m not going to. With that out of the way, I’ll get back into character and get started.
Beyond uses a disjointed narrative style, reminiscent of films like Memento or Pulp Fiction, to tell the tale of Jodie Holmes and her supernaturally tethered invisibly entity, Aiden. As we dart about through Jodie’s life, ranging from little girl to adult, we slowly begin to build up a full and rounded view of her life. The meat of the story in Beyond concerns CIA laboratories and a world filled with spirits and monsters that lies beyond. Depending on which faze of the story you find yourself in it shifts from supernatural thriller to pure science fiction with more lab coats than you can shake a test tube at.
At times the plot can become a little far fetched and some suspension of disbelief may be required but providing you let yourself enjoy Beyond, you will. Strangely it’s not really the plot that is the main concern anyway. The story that Beyond is trying to tell is Jodie’s story. So we join Jodie during some of her most intimate, exciting, mundane and darkest moments each of which is equally important.
Jodie is played by the great Ellen Page who does an absolutely fantastic job. With the technology Quantic Dream have used Ellen’s subtle acting style is fully realized in Beyond. Expressions are clear and easily read without ever feeling like overacting is required due to lack of technical proficiency. Our connection with Jodie’s character is so crucial to Beyond and I’m so glad Ellen Page was casted in the part, she really sold Jodie’s character.
But she’s not the only great acting talent in beyond, Willem Dafoe also makes a strong appearance as the fathering Dr.Nathan Dawkins. The supporting characters are a little generic, a mad scientist here, a cold hearted CIA agent there, but on the whole acting is good and certainly enough to support Page. The movement and subtle gestures of all the characters are by far the best I’ve ever seen. Something as simple as someone reaching for a cup of coffee sees his/her body moving exactly how you would expect.
Accompanying the impressive motion capture are stunning backdrops. Camera angles switch and angle themselves to ensure you get a good look around without breaking your movement. The camera is also used to tell you where to go by shifting its focus. Although you can move the camera slightly it can sometimes be frustrating that you can’t spin it to check behind you or look over to check a corner. If you just let the camera do its work Beyond will show you what you need and look good doing it, but it’s difficult given gaming conventions of the past 10 years or so.
The same frustrations can also be said for the narrative. If you look at Beyond as a story describing several characters and the events that effect them then there is very little that can be altered in Beyond. The story is told to you rather than you telling your own. But I see Beyond as Jodie’s story and the events that effect her life. If you look at it in this way there are choices presented to you constantly that effect Jodie, or someone that directly effects her in turn. The overall plot is largely fixed, apart from the endings, but Jodie’s experience can be changed quite considerably.
Sure there are no conversation wheels at the bottom of the screen with “good” options on one side and “bad” on the other but rather Beyond relies on subtlety. When you break into a certain building missing something can drastically alter the events that unfold. When trying to evade the police a series of chase sequences can be completely avoided if you do things right, which I couldn’t figure out my first time. Large parts of the story will remain the same to ensure the story is told but that’s not to say there aren’t options.
In an attempt not to drag you out of the experience the control system has been integrated by almost entirely using the right thumbstick. When there is an action to be performed a white dot will appear and moving the thumbstick in the correct direction will perform the action. Gone are the days of overcomplicated QTE’s (Quick Time Events) too. When you fight and an action needs to be inputted the game will go into slow motion and your job is to move the thumbstick in the direction Jodie is moving in. There are a few tricky points but once you get used to it it’s an elegant solution that ensures you stay immersed in the experience.
Alongside all the top-notch production is an adequately top-notch soundtrack partially composed by Normand Corbeil (who sadly died before he completed his work) and finished by Lorne Balfe. It often provides a slightly melancholy backing to what’s on screen, although what’s on screen is often quite melancholy too. At times I found the soundtrack a little underused but at the same time it never intruded or made speech difficult to hear.
If you turn the lights off, crank up the surround sound and let yourself get totally absorbed into the story Beyond has to tell it is impossible not to be taken in. Accompanying Jodie from a confused and lost little girl to a CIA agent to a homeless person enduring the harshest circumstances in the depth of depression allows for a deep and meaningful characterization the likes of which are rarely possible outside of a Quantic Dream title. Especially when it is performed so superbly by Ellen Page.
Unarguably Quantic Dream have made great advancements with the technology they are using and Beyond’s production values are through the roof. Your PS3 will be relentlessly taxed and surely Beyond has squeezed every last drop of power available on the platform. But if you’re looking for an action packed adventure or total freedom this isn’t the game for you. Beyond has even further blurred the line between films and video games and for me its emotional journey was one I couldn’t stop until the very end. Well done David Cage and Quantic Dream, I can’t wait to see what the PS4 will bring us.