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“Beyond: Two Souls” Review

Juno with warpaint on.

Juno with warpaint on.

It’s not often that we see actual Hollywood talent take starring roles in video games, and it’s even more scarce to see them take roles in big budget first party titles.  But this is the rare case with Beyond: Two Souls, the latest interactive adventure to come out of Quantic Dream from the mind of David Cage, and it’s quite an entertaining experience.

What Is It?

Hot off the heels of 2010’s interactive drama Heavy Rain, which questioned how far a father would go to save his son, Beyond puts players in the shoes of both Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page of Juno and Inception fame) and Aiden, an invisible entity that’s been following Jodie around for as long as she can remember.

The game takes place over the course of Jodie’s life from her days as an innocent toddler being carefully studied, all the way up to her young adulthood as a member of the CIA and jumps back and forth through the years showing how Jodie has coped with having Aiden around.

In a nutshell, Aiden has sort of made Jodie’s life a living hell.  Aiden is Jodie’s imaginary friend that isn’t so imaginary.  He could do things like break windows, throw objects around, and even choke people to death or make their hearts fail, and Jodie has been there to experience the good and the bad with no real control or any idea why she’s linked to this entity.

Why Should I Care?

Because the game jumps all over the place to and from different parts of Jodie’s life, at first glance it’s really unclear as to what kind of game it is you’re playing.  Unlike Heavy Rain, which switched back and forth between four characters that would never meet, Beyond gives you control of both Jodie and Aiden virtually right away at anytime.

So while the game is about Jodie’s life, Aiden players have some control of the environments around her, which also affects the way others portray her.

The next three paragraphs go into detail about specific moments in the story.  While they aren’t important parts of the overall plot, if you’re not into spoilers, then you’re advised to skip over them.

SLIGHT SPOILERS | For example, in the beginning of the game, Jodie is instructed by scientists to choose specific cards matching the cards that another person in another room is choosing.  Of course, Jodie isn’t psychic, so it’s up to Aiden to go over to the other room, peek at the other person’s card, and instruct Jodie which card to pick.  From there, you can decide to pick the right card or the wrong card, which would result in different reactions from the scientists doing the study.

Another example of what Aiden can do takes place during a party in Jodie’s teenage years. Upon being horribly treated by her peers, Jodie is locked in a closet with no way out.  As Aiden, you can unlock the door for her and proceed in two ways–you can just leave the party, or seek revenge.  Leaving just ends the vignette, while seeking revenge leads to something a lot more interesting.

You can knock the beers over, break the TV, among other small things to startle the guests.  You can then do more harm as they try to leave.  Throw a chair at a kid trying open a window.  Shatter a window in front of the girl and have the shards hit her.  From there you can even drop a candle on a curtain and set the house on fire. | END SPOILERS

Most of the cases where you use Aiden to wreak havoc on the world are actually optional.  The only required motions Aiden makes are to protect Jodie, but if you take it too far which you definitely can do, it could make for some pretty interesting situations.

As far as the actual gameplay goes, it’s pretty much Heavy Rain with less hand-holding.  Probably 80 percent of the game is actually just quicktime events, so you pretty much just follow what’s prompted on the screen.  You’ll also have to switch to Aiden at times with the press of a button, and from there everything is in first-person, and the cool part about is you can go through walls and other types of matter.

Using Aiden takes a bit of getting used to though.  First of all, you can’t stray too far away from Jodie, and sometimes it’s difficult using the right shoulder buttons to determine how high or low you can travel since as Aiden you just float.

There’s also some stealth and combat gameplay involved.  The stealth missions for the most part require Jodie to hide behind cover, and from there either find something else to hide behind, attack a nearby guard with another quicktime action, or switch to Aiden to do more recon on the environment or attack and possess guards Jodie can’t reach.

The combat gameplay is probably the most annoying part of the game.  Everything is done with the right stick, so when the action you see on the screen is in slow motion, you have to follow Jodie’s motions and tilt the stick to wherever she’s going.  So if the camera pans to the side and she’s punching facing left, you tilt left.  If she’s ducking, you tilt down.  While it all seems like it makes enough sense, there will be instances where the action is too fast and it ends up turning into a guessing game.

The thing is you can’t really “fail” or “die” in this game.  Every situation is scripted and it’s impossible to move backward when you progress.  So while it can be annoying, it’s what makes the game different for everybody.  If you talk about what you did in Beyond with someone else who played it, odds are he or she might have a different story as to what happened.

That being said, it shouldn’t be surprising to know that the game has multiple endings.  Luckily, after finishing the game, you have the option to replay any chapter you want, so it makes it easier to experience everything.

What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?

Beyond: Two Souls is a game oriented around its story.  Again, it might not sound too interesting at first glance, but when you actually play it, it really highlights David Cage’s ability to tell a story.  Maybe it’s not a particularly well written story, but it’s an engaging one nonetheless.

Quantic Dream has always excelled with making people look as realistic as technologically possible, and they’ve done a fantastic job with the likenesses of all their actors. Academy Award nominees Ellen Page (Juno, Inception) and Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire, Spider-Man) do a fantastic job of playing both Jodie Holmes and Nathan Dawkins, a father figure to Jodie and a scientist who studies life and beyond.  In fact, they were probably Cage’s main tools at keeping the game as engaging as it was.

With high production values and an intriguing story to boot, Beyond: Two Souls is as close as a game gets to being a Hollywood movie.  The game was even featured in preview form at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Is it worth the money?  The bottom line is if you play games to play them, maybe it’s not worth the $60.  But if you play games for the experience you’ll have, you’ll find a very enjoyable one in Beyond: Two Souls.

 
 
 
 
 
Title: Beyond: Two Souls
Platform: PlayStation 3
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Developer: Quantic Dream
Genre: Adventure
Release Date: October 8, 2013
ESRB Rating: M
Editor's Note: The game was purchased by the reviewer who put 15 hours into the game completing the main story once and replaying a few chapters to experience different endings.

It’s not often that we see actual Hollywood talent take starring roles in video games, and it’s even more scarce to see them take roles in big budget first party titles.  But this is the rare case with Beyond: Two Souls, the latest interactive adventure to come out of Quantic Dream from the mind of David Cage, and it’s quite an entertaining experience. What Is It? Hot off the heels of 2010’s interactive drama Heavy Rain, which questioned how far […]

Juno with warpaint on.

Juno with warpaint on.

It’s not often that we see actual Hollywood talent take starring roles in video games, and it’s even more scarce to see them take roles in big budget first party titles.  But this is the rare case with Beyond: Two Souls, the latest interactive adventure to come out of Quantic Dream from the mind of David Cage, and it’s quite an entertaining experience.

What Is It?

Hot off the heels of 2010’s interactive drama Heavy Rain, which questioned how far a father would go to save his son, Beyond puts players in the shoes of both Jodie Holmes (played by Ellen Page of Juno and Inception fame) and Aiden, an invisible entity that’s been following Jodie around for as long as she can remember.

The game takes place over the course of Jodie’s life from her days as an innocent toddler being carefully studied, all the way up to her young adulthood as a member of the CIA and jumps back and forth through the years showing how Jodie has coped with having Aiden around.

In a nutshell, Aiden has sort of made Jodie’s life a living hell.  Aiden is Jodie’s imaginary friend that isn’t so imaginary.  He could do things like break windows, throw objects around, and even choke people to death or make their hearts fail, and Jodie has been there to experience the good and the bad with no real control or any idea why she’s linked to this entity.

Why Should I Care?

Because the game jumps all over the place to and from different parts of Jodie’s life, at first glance it’s really unclear as to what kind of game it is you’re playing.  Unlike Heavy Rain, which switched back and forth between four characters that would never meet, Beyond gives you control of both Jodie and Aiden virtually right away at anytime.

So while the game is about Jodie’s life, Aiden players have some control of the environments around her, which also affects the way others portray her.

The next three paragraphs go into detail about specific moments in the story.  While they aren’t important parts of the overall plot, if you’re not into spoilers, then you’re advised to skip over them.

SLIGHT SPOILERS | For example, in the beginning of the game, Jodie is instructed by scientists to choose specific cards matching the cards that another person in another room is choosing.  Of course, Jodie isn’t psychic, so it’s up to Aiden to go over to the other room, peek at the other person’s card, and instruct Jodie which card to pick.  From there, you can decide to pick the right card or the wrong card, which would result in different reactions from the scientists doing the study.

Another example of what Aiden can do takes place during a party in Jodie’s teenage years. Upon being horribly treated by her peers, Jodie is locked in a closet with no way out.  As Aiden, you can unlock the door for her and proceed in two ways–you can just leave the party, or seek revenge.  Leaving just ends the vignette, while seeking revenge leads to something a lot more interesting.

You can knock the beers over, break the TV, among other small things to startle the guests.  You can then do more harm as they try to leave.  Throw a chair at a kid trying open a window.  Shatter a window in front of the girl and have the shards hit her.  From there you can even drop a candle on a curtain and set the house on fire. | END SPOILERS

Most of the cases where you use Aiden to wreak havoc on the world are actually optional.  The only required motions Aiden makes are to protect Jodie, but if you take it too far which you definitely can do, it could make for some pretty interesting situations.

As far as the actual gameplay goes, it’s pretty much Heavy Rain with less hand-holding.  Probably 80 percent of the game is actually just quicktime events, so you pretty much just follow what’s prompted on the screen.  You’ll also have to switch to Aiden at times with the press of a button, and from there everything is in first-person, and the cool part about is you can go through walls and other types of matter.

Using Aiden takes a bit of getting used to though.  First of all, you can’t stray too far away from Jodie, and sometimes it’s difficult using the right shoulder buttons to determine how high or low you can travel since as Aiden you just float.

There’s also some stealth and combat gameplay involved.  The stealth missions for the most part require Jodie to hide behind cover, and from there either find something else to hide behind, attack a nearby guard with another quicktime action, or switch to Aiden to do more recon on the environment or attack and possess guards Jodie can’t reach.

The combat gameplay is probably the most annoying part of the game.  Everything is done with the right stick, so when the action you see on the screen is in slow motion, you have to follow Jodie’s motions and tilt the stick to wherever she’s going.  So if the camera pans to the side and she’s punching facing left, you tilt left.  If she’s ducking, you tilt down.  While it all seems like it makes enough sense, there will be instances where the action is too fast and it ends up turning into a guessing game.

The thing is you can’t really “fail” or “die” in this game.  Every situation is scripted and it’s impossible to move backward when you progress.  So while it can be annoying, it’s what makes the game different for everybody.  If you talk about what you did in Beyond with someone else who played it, odds are he or she might have a different story as to what happened.

That being said, it shouldn’t be surprising to know that the game has multiple endings.  Luckily, after finishing the game, you have the option to replay any chapter you want, so it makes it easier to experience everything.

What Makes It Worth My Time And Money?

Beyond: Two Souls is a game oriented around its story.  Again, it might not sound too interesting at first glance, but when you actually play it, it really highlights David Cage’s ability to tell a story.  Maybe it’s not a particularly well written story, but it’s an engaging one nonetheless.

Quantic Dream has always excelled with making people look as realistic as technologically possible, and they’ve done a fantastic job with the likenesses of all their actors. Academy Award nominees Ellen Page (Juno, Inception) and Willem Dafoe (Shadow of the Vampire, Spider-Man) do a fantastic job of playing both Jodie Holmes and Nathan Dawkins, a father figure to Jodie and a scientist who studies life and beyond.  In fact, they were probably Cage’s main tools at keeping the game as engaging as it was.

With high production values and an intriguing story to boot, Beyond: Two Souls is as close as a game gets to being a Hollywood movie.  The game was even featured in preview form at the Tribeca Film Festival.

Is it worth the money?  The bottom line is if you play games to play them, maybe it’s not worth the $60.  But if you play games for the experience you’ll have, you’ll find a very enjoyable one in Beyond: Two Souls.

Date published: 10/17/2013
4.5 / 5 stars

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