Beyond: Two Souls (Video Game Review)

David Cage created one of the all-time great PlayStation 3 exclusives with Heavy Rain back in in 2010, so naturally Sony fans would be excited for his next release, Beyond: Two Souls. The game does feature beautiful graphics that most games just can't compare with and a strong narrative that many fans will appreciate, but the heavy emphasis on dialogue and storyline linearity means gamers will take a backseat while the drama of the game unfolds in front of their eyes. As a movie, Beyond: Two Souls would still be a confusing film strengthened by excellent acting, but as a video game, Beyond: Two Souls is a little more than an elongated cutscene where the player makes few consequential decisions that definitely keeps the game from being a must purchase.

In Beyond: Two Souls, players control a protagonist named Jodie Holmes across different points in her life to uncover the secrets of her mysterious past and discover her destiny in the present time. Jodie is discovered to be a special girl from a young age that possesses a strong telepathic connection with a spirit figure named Aiden. Through Aiden, Jodie can perform all sorts of feats such as possessing another individual's mind, manipulating and moving objects in the environment and other people or even killing others with her thoughts. The game recounts her entire life story, but isn't told in chronological order, which leaves the player to carefully piece together the various storylines at different points in her life, as the game continues to jump from one important moment to another.

The storyline featured in Beyond: Two Souls isn't just its main attraction, but the player most often takes a backseat to gameplay with the game taking over for elongated cutscenes. The narrative of the game is mostly fine, but it's told in the most confusing way imaginable, and it can be too easy to become frustrated with the game for players looking to actually play the game rather than watch the various scenes that make up the storyline. Even as a film, Beyond: Two Souls would be somewhat frustrating to watch, as the story jarringly switches from one moment to another, but the game does have some nice touches that are sure to win over many loyal PlayStation 3 owners and fans of other Quantic Dream's titles.

One thing Beyond: Two Souls nails perfectly is its amazing acting and voicework. Jodie is portrayed by actress Ellen Page, who turns in a magnificent performance throughout the game. She often teams on-screen with actors Willem Dafoe, who plays Dr. Nathan Dawkins, and Kadeem Hardison, who performs as Dr. Cole Freeman. Jodie is taken to the doctors at a young age to be experimented on like in any story where the parents become fearful of a child that withholds paranormal powers they do not understand. Though this part of the storyline is pretty typical, there are plenty of twists and turns along the entire plot that will keep players guessing what may happen next. Though the way the story of Beyond: Two Souls is told can be awfully confusing, players can easily get invested in these believable characters, and the acting is surely good enough to cause players to choke up a time or two throughout the game.

Beyond: Two Souls gets more wrong than it does right unfortunately. While there are plenty of choices the player will need to make throughout the game's storyline, most end up being inconsequential decisions that barely change the game's outcome, though there are some multiple endings to help alleviate some of the problems with this design choice. It's not uncommon to make a decision in the game only to have the outcome be the same no matter what the player chooses to do, and the linearity of the storyline becomes more of a problem once the decisions begin affecting whether a character should have died or not.

Gameplay is an afterthought throughout much of Beyond: Two Souls. Gone are many of the quick time events other releases from the developer have been notoriously known for in the past, but this ultimately means that players will actually be even less involved in the outcome of certain events than they'd enjoy. There are still a few quick time events in the game, but most of gameplay is spent playing as Jodie and controlling Aiden for a variety of different effects. Jodie often finds herself caught in hand-to-hand combat with her adversaries and a tricky to learn dodging system can be used to go in for the knockout blow. Of course, if you manage to fail and get knocked out or shot, the game seems to continue as if it never happened, since the player can never lose any of the scripted fights in the game, and Aiden will just heal any wounds the player gets to support this design choice. Using Aiden to control enemies is a pretty interesting mechanic though, and as something that is rarely seen in games anymore, it offers a nice change of pace the few times it becomes useful during the game.

Beyond: Two Souls is a spectacular looking game, and is possibly the best looking of this generation. Obviously, a lot of Quantic Dream's time and effort went into capturing the acting and facial features of its great cast of characters, and it definitely shows in each scene in the game. Facial features and animations are right up there with the best in the business such as Halo 4 and L.A. Noire, and the full character models look even better. It is a bit distracting for PlayStation gamers to realize the main character in Beyond: Two Souls looks just like one of the stars of The Last of Us, but it soon becomes no big deal at all despite Naughty Dog's attempt to make Ellie look so much like Ellen Page. Beyond: Two Souls' environments look equally impressive, though they can't be explored and further emphasize the game's linearity.

If Beyond: Two Souls' graphics is the best part of the game's presentation, than the non-linearity of the game's storyline is its worst. The game looks fantastic, but jumping from one point in the protagonist's life to another is far too distracting to be enjoyable in a game where the whole point of playing is to enjoy the narrative. The control scheme can be hit or miss. Controlling Aiden is a lot of fun, while participating in prompted events and learning how best to deal with enemies is not so much. The great voice acting work can only be outdone by a great soundtrack that always manages to capture the right mood no matter what is happening at the time.

When comparing Beyond: Two Souls to other games from Quantic Dream such as Heavy Rain, there really is no comparison. The handful of things the game manages to get correct is always brought down by a different, questionable design choice that makes the player take a backseat to what is happening on-screen at the time. While Beyond: Two Souls undoubtedly looks and sounds far better than its predecessors, the game isn't nearly as interesting to play as Heavy Rain and it doesn't present as many unique qualities as Indigo Prophecy. Though Beyond: Two Souls features a couple of different endings, it's unlikely many players will enjoy playing through the game more than once, unless the good ending was not unlocked during the first playthrough.

Beyond: Two Souls is an amazing game to watch, but piecing together the pieces of storyline that make up the title can be a burden, and it's difficult to recommend a game that isn't really a game. Beyond: Two Souls is comparable to films such as Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull in that the work features great actors, looks pretty with amazing graphics and special effects and even has an all-time great director behind the creation of the story, but it just doesn't produce an end product that is as good as the sum of its part. While David Cage might not be past his prime, the would be director has missed his mark with Beyond: Two Souls. If you're a huge fan of Quantic Dream's work, you may be able to look past the game's flaws. If you want a great new cinematic experience, it may be hard to recommend any recent films over this game either, but that's only because more have flopped out in the recent months than what seems like at any other time in history. Temper your expectations for Beyond: Two Souls, and maybe you won't be too disappointed with this new release.

Beyond: Two Souls is now available from all major retailers for the MSRP of $59.99 and can be purchased exclusively for PlayStation 3. Beyond: Two Souls is rated M by the ESRB for Blood, Intense Violence, Sexual Content, Strong Language & Use of Drugs and Alcohol. For more information on the game, check out the official Beyond: Two Souls website.

Game Features:
  • Single Player
  • David Cage Directed Narrative
  • All-Star Cast including Ellen Page & Willem Dafoe
  • Mobile Device Support
  • Trophy Support

  • Game Information:
    Developer: Quantic Dream
    Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment America
    Available exclusively for PlayStation 3
    Release Date: October 9, 2013

    Score: 5.5 out of 10
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