Review: Beyond: Two Souls
In 2010 Heavy Rain rewrote the rules of how we could interact with a videogame, and Quantic Dream’s first title was a unique and thrilling adventure. Three years later and their next game, Beyond: Two Souls, has an even greater level of innovation, whilst also refining what came before it. The result is a polished, detailed experience that merges a gripping, cinematic story with original and involving gameplay.
Beyond: Two Souls tells an exciting story. This is the heart of the experience; this is a game driven by the narrative where you’re playing to find out what happens next. Such a strong reliance on the plot means that at times the ‘game’ part of Beyond: Two Souls feels restrictive, and all interactive elements take place inside small, story defined environments. There’s a decent amount of player choice, but you’re not offered the usual freedoms found in a conventional action game. You are exploring, but on a smaller scale, engaging with detailed objects in a relatively confined space.
You control two characters. There’s Jodie, played by Ellen Page, and Aiden, a psychic entity that’s linked to her. Each interacts with the environment differently, and you’ll need to swap between the two of them to solve puzzles. Aiden can float around the room and push stuff about using his psychic powers, which sounds fairly cool although the reality is essentially a point and click adventure. It’s fun to see how you can interact with the environment, although at times I found myself floating around and smashing stuff up aimlessly, waiting till I hit the object that would make the game to progress. Aiden’s abilities are limited, and he is occasionally used as a tool to remove player choice from the game. Tormenting people with your powers may be presented to you as a choice, but not doing so will cause the story to halt. Want to see more of the game? Better get smashing then.
But for the most part the gameplay works well, and there are some significant improvements that Heavy Rain fans will notice. Both the controls and the camera have been fixed (no more holding R2 to walk thank god), and you can no longer fail at ridiculously easy tasks. Watching my character struggle to put on a seatbelt really took me out of the Heavy Rain experience, but thankfully Beyond: Two Souls manages to keep the interactivity without losing immersion.
That’s not to say the game isn’t flawed however, and there are a couple of things that don’t really work. Firstly is your inability to fail. Just like in Heavy Rain, if you mess something up then the game doesn’t restart you at a checkpoint, it continues on and you have to live with the consequences of your mistake. This was fine for a slow paced noir thriller, but at times doesn’t make sense in the context of a more action oriented game. When failure can be written into the story it makes sense. For example, at one point you must complete a training course where you have to sneak past some soldiers. If they spot you then the coach yells and makes you start again. But at other times failure is not an option, and because of this the game won’t let you mess up. Example; you are escaping the police on a motorbike. If you try and drive off the road, or do something that would have resulted in crashing, the game takes over to prevent this from happening. Once you realise that the bike will drive itself if you don’t bother, the whole experience starts to feel far less immersive.
Fortunately this doesn’t detract from the game too much, I mean if you want to race motorbikes go and play Road Rash. Beyond: Two Souls is an interactive story, and at this it succeeds on many accounts. It has a movie quality plot, brilliant characters played by professional actors, and some awesome twists. But it’s actually the variety in scenarios that impressed me the most, and you’ll really never know what Beyond: Two Souls will throw at you next. After playing the demo I was personally worried that a sizeable portion of the game would be one large chase scene, and I’m very glad that this isn’t the case. I won’t ruin anything, but will say that the story takes you to many surprising locations.
There’s so much I like about Beyond: Two Souls that its few problems are very easy to overlook. It’s an unique game with an interesting story, cool characters, and some really interesting ideas. It further blurs the lines between film and game, and delivers one of the most cinematic videogame experiences I’ve ever played.