Beyond: Two Souls has been out for just over two months here in the UK, and both myself and Peter of Peter Reviews have each played it through. It’s been an…interesting experience, not without its negative points. I never did a full review of Quantic Dream’s Heavy Rain, (though you can read Peter’s full review here) but I consider it to be one of the best PS3 games made, and one of my favourite games in general. We pre-ordered Beyond: Two Souls at the first opportunity we had, there was no way we were going to miss it.
I’m not going to give away too much detail of the games plot, as I don’t want to spoil a relatively new game. In brief, Beyond plays a bit like Heavy Rain, you control your character, from a third person perspective, moving through their story, making choices and interacting with other characters. It’s an…adventure/action/slight Sci-fi genre game, a bit multi-genre, but I quite like that about it.
What it is, in comparison to Heavy Rain, however, is no-where near as good. It has its points over it, but for me, Heavy Rain is the better game. That doesn’t mean that I thought Beyond was a bad game, I enjoyed it, played it through and could definitely recommend it, but I’m very wary of painting games as amazing simply because they are the last good game I played.
I’m going to start off with the good point in Beyond: Two Souls favour. It’s a beautiful game. The engine, the environments, and the character models are just that more impressive than Heavy Rain, they really show the strengths of Quantic Dream, as they continue to push how life-like they’re making their games. This is vital for pulling us into the story and drama, for helping us identify with characters as people. We can see their facial expressions and body language rendered wonderfully in high definition.
Beyond also builds on Heavy Rain’s design idea of the characters being acted and voiced and fully realised. They have real performances that someone else has then added as a layer on top of the game play, really blending that line between game and film, that Interactive Drama is such a fantastic idea. I wish more companies would take a leaf out of Quantic Dream’s book, and make a game focusing on the characters and story, rather than producing ‘one game mechanic is all your need’ style games.
Jodie, in particularly, (voiced and motion captured from actor Ellen Page) is a wonderful example of a fully fleshed-out character. We experience her life as the main story of Beyond: Two Souls, and she’s at times strong and weak, interesting and selfish. She makes bad decisions and good ones. She very much struck me as a real person. I also thought the main story involving Jodie and Aiden was great, and as I’ve said, I really liked the weaving in of Sci-fi elements.
But it isn’t all great, obviously, or in the end I wouldn’t prefer Heavy Rain.
The big problem for me, is choice. Beyond felt painfully fixed and linear. Like a lot of games with the illusion of choice, the main events still happen, there is still one story that plays out with minor differences. It even commits the same sin games like Deus Ex: Human Revolution do; the ‘pick your end button’. It doesn’t particularly matter what I did in the end, I can re-load, and experience all the games endings. This makes the end ultimately unsatisfying.
This feeling is made even worse, in comparison to Heavy Rain. In Heavy Rain you had real choice. You could miss things and it would affect the story later. Spoilers if you haven’t played Heavy Rain (What are you doing with your life? Go play Heavy Rain!) You could very definitely miss clues, come to different conclusions, and fail events entirely. Ethan can decide to not continue challenges and be unable to save his son, characters can die and that actually changes the outcome in the end. There is no cut-scene button to simply press in the end. It is a complex and fully realised story with multiple endings, and I assume it took a long time to make it all work properly. It’s fantastic.
The rest of my negatives from here are much more minor for me, but negatives nonetheless.
I am not a huge fan of non-linear story telling done in the fashion Beyond: Two Souls. It doesn’t particularly feel like there was a good reason for the non-linear ordering to me, as opposed to ordering events chronologically. Gameplay mechanic wise I didn’t like how you moved Jodie on screen, as at times it felt like I didn’t really have full control over her movements, making it awkward to really get a look around the lovely environments. Another bug bear for me is that two player… well it wasn’t especially two player-y. It was take turns playing, and it didn’t feel like a great idea just to cram some multi-player in.
Story-wise, I’ll simply say: spirit quest. Spirit quest, spirit quest, SPIRIT QUEST. Really, we had to go on a spirit quest? I don’t know if It’s just because I’m English or just simply find the idea tiresome, but it didn’t do it for me. I was very happy with all the other supernatural elements. The story also occasionally had poor logic, but I don’t know how much to focus on that. I wasn’t terribly convinced by how… cartoon-ishly evil both the military/government organisation Jodie is involved with, and to a lesser extent her father, is made to appear. Neither was I convinced at all of the (potential) romance between Jodie and Clayton, considering how much of a berk Clayton was.
So, could the game have been better? Yes, obviously. If the game had been made in much the same way, but your actions affected the final outcome, rather than a screen prompt, the ending would have felt more satisfying. It needed more depth of real choices. I am still looking forward to what Quantic Dream does in the future, and will probably play Beyond (and Heavy Rain) through again. Until next time.