Too many games go unnoticed, solid titles missed or forgotten. So, my goal is to pique some interest and let you know what is worth going back to revisit or possibly even add to your collection.
I was afraid to give Beyond: Two Souls a shot. David Cage is quite the interesting character and the games he and Quantic Dreams make can be an interesting experience, or a horrible nightmare, like a film that someone thought had the right to run for eight plus hours. I loved their last endeavor, but this one had me worried. I put off buying it until I was in a pawn shop picking up some Nancy Drew Gameboy games and saw it in the case for five dollars. I didn’t even try to talk the lady down in price. I knew my fate was sealed and it was time. I just wish I had known what was ahead…
The high amount of cliché storytelling and horrible dialogue do not help.
Let me step back a bit. For those who may not be familiar with Cage’s work they are essentially movies with bits of gameplay sprinkled in so the player feels like they are affecting the story. In some circles these types of games are called interactive drama, but it depends who you ask as to how the genre is received. How much of an interactive game is it if your actions don’t matter? Sometimes I felt like I didn’t need to even be there, as many of the events happen no matter how long it takes me to do something, or still unfold the same way even if I put the controller down during the action scenes. The game tries to base itself off of choice and focusing on player action, but it is just a linear ride in disguise. The main character cannot even die throughout the majority of the game, no matter what I let happen to her. This is a big argument for the genre though; discussing whether they are closer to games or movies. It is a genre where Cage is struggling to excel.
The game follows Jodie Holmes and her ghost buddy Aiden. From her troubled childhood and time in the mysterious Department of Paranormal Activity to her stint in the CIA and adventures on the run, players will see an odd look at a girl living with her ghost and being used for her gifts before becoming the hero the story forces her to be. It’s a nice premise, but the writing is not up to the task past that. Beyond: Two Souls makes its best attempt to tell a non-linear story while being severely disjointed and feeling splotchy at best. The high amount of cliché storytelling and horrible dialogue do not help. The order events are played in tries to help guide the ups and downs of emotional and action scenes but simply becomes jarring instead.
The game tries to balance its emotional human moments and big action sequences, and it is not hard to tell which one they fail at. The player interacts by moving Jodie around and then pressing directions on the stick to do an action, sometimes being prompted to press or hold other buttons on the controller in a certain order or use the motion controls. It feels like busy work at times, but at least they cut down on the standard quick time events. The combat however is the worse part of the controls—downright atrocious. It asks the player to guess which way the character wants to move or dodge with so few indicators, but worse the combat doesn’t seem to follow its own rules from the limited tutorial. Fighting is simply weak in the gameplay department and breaks immersion when the commands flow so poorly. Plus, it doesn’t matter how well the player does at the commands, the outcomes are generally the same. Do I get captured here or farther down the road?
Beyond: Two Souls creates a world that is very pretty and a little creepy at times.
Using Aiden can be a little disorienting as well. Not only figuring out how to move him, but what he can and cannot do. Aiden is quite powerful at times and seemingly limited at others, but when the player controls him there seem to be few choices on what to do. The ghostly spectre proves that he can choke people out, shield Jodie, or even possess bad guys, but only when the game wants the player to. It’s annoying. They also tried do a multiplayer system where one person controls Jodie and the other Aiden, but not at the same time. I think all they accomplished was boring two people who should have just played separately.
What the game manages to pull off is its visual presentation. I was amazed with what the developers were able to pull out of the PS3 when it comes to lightning and realism—as long as we aren’t discussing the pop-in textures and odd faces in certain scenes. Beyond: Two Souls creates a world that is very pretty and a little creepy at times, but one that manages to feel more like well-crafted backdrops in a stage production than real. It is appeasing to the eyes until the player tries to touch and interact with things or explore. Then it all falls apart.
I thought the acting would help solve this problem, bringing in stars like Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe, who just unfortunately feel so flat at times. Watching some interviews they did to promote the game, the pair look like they are about to fall asleep. Page does the best voice work in the whole game, but I actually got tired of her dramatic voice after a while. I do blame part of this on the writing, as some of the best actors can’t make bad dialogue or poor directing work. There is a severe lack of character depth, leaving everyone feeling like hollow shells that were only given a few traits. I hate saying that about something where the human moments were done so well, but were never capitalized on. In a game where I see Jodie at so many different points of her life and watch her go though so much, I expect a greater connection. When it came time for me to choose between the multiple endings—after the utterly predictable and color by numbers final act—I felt none of them truly made sense, because they didn’t fit anything I had derived about the character (they aren’t that good either).
I felt a much stronger connection in Heavy Rain, even though the writing was just as bad. I felt like I could walk around, investigate, and be a part of a world rather than just a starting point of a story. It stuck to one genre and made a lot work. Beyond: Two Souls is jumping all over the place with its schizophrenic timeline and lack of real emotion, even though it tries for so much drama. I almost stopped playing when I got to the Navajo section, because it seemed drawn out and forced in on top of being so forgettable. This is a game whose scope may have been too big, trying to cram a lot more in than it needed. The game feels pushy at times, eager to get the player through its adventure, making it feel like something that truly would have worked better as a movie.
I think I am done. I’ve been going back through and playing some of the better sections—which is a cool feature—but the lack of options and odd character moments are starting to show the more I play the game. At least it leaves an impression, and probably would have done so more had I not already played Heavy Rain and enjoyed it so much. For five dollars though it has earned its place on my shelves for a little while, and now with it getting a PS4 remaster, perhaps a few other people will play and see what I mean.