It’s been a little while since I did a “My Thoughts On” article, but boy, do we have something to talk about.
Beyond: Two Souls came out for the PS3 on Tuesday, and I’ve been playing it non-stop since. Before I get into Beyond, however, I want to talk about my history with Quantic Dream, the studio behind the game.
I’d always known about Quantic Dream, but I’d never actually played one of their games before. My first experience with them actually came from a tech-demo they put together, called “Kara”. Check it out below if you like, I’ll wait
A seven minute tech demo that felt like a fully realized short story or film. It had more impact and delivery, to me, in those seven minutes than most movies get in a hundred and twenty, or most games get in 10 or more hours.
I was addicted, I needed to see what they could do with a full game, rather than just a seven minute tech demo. Thus, I went out and bought a copy of Heavy Rain.
I put it in and played it for three hours straight, then I never picked it back up again.
The story felt uninteresting, and the pacing was horrid; I felt like I had accomplished nothing in those three hours, and that I’d not even seen or experienced anything of consequence. With the pacing, I understand that you want to take some time to showcase a bit of who these characters are as people, and even a bit of what their lives might be like on a normal day. Still, it felt completely wrong and like the game was wasting my time.
When I saw the announcement for Beyond: Two Souls, however, I was captivated by the idea. I decided to give them another shot, so I picked up a copy of Beyond on Tuesday and have been playing it without pause. That fact alone should give you the impression that it is an improvement over my previous experience.
So, let’s get down to talking about what Beyond actually even is as a form of media and what it’s about. Shall we?
Beyond: Two Souls, while technically a video game, will challenge your definition of the medium. It isn’t something that you “play”, but more of something that comes out as an interactive movie experience. Make a note of all three of those words in particular, they are there for a reason.
The game differs from just about all others in that events play out on their own, you just happen to choose some dialogue options that affect the way you interact via conversations, or you interact with certain objects in the game that cause certain actions. It’s something akin to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” story, or for those of you familiar with the title, an evolution of Dragon’s Lair.
You don’t play the game, you merely interact with it and the characters therein. Actions taken throughout the game come in the form of quick-time events, something that is normally reviled in games. For this title and its story, however, it fits.
Everything about the game tries to emulate a movie, trying to act as a bridge between films and games. The camera angle and the way you see scenes, the film-like score by Hans Zimmer, even the casting choices; Ellen Page plays the role of the protagonist, while Willem Dafoe takes on the role of the biggest supporting character.
When you refine or strip down everything so you can leave nothing to get in the way of the story and immersion, however, you put just about every bit of scrutiny on those two elements. That in mind, how does the story, its characters, and that immersion hold up? For me, quite well. It’s got some rough patches, but it felt stronger than most other games.
You play the role of Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page), who has been bound to an entity known as Aiden ever since she was born. No one can see him except her, no one can hear him except her, but he can interact with the world and Jodie. Aiden is able to move objects (or throw them), possess or even kill people, act as a link so Jodie can experience visions, ect. He is helpful, but he’s temperamental, possessive, and fiercely protective of Jodie.
Because of how he can sometimes gets temperamental or bored, along with how defensive he can get, he often acts out on objects and people around her. This, as you might imagine, gives her some small blessings, but becomes a curse that derails her entire life.
The entire game plays through important events in Jodie’s life, ranging from when she was a small child, to growing up in a research lab under Nathan Dawkins (Willem Dafoe), all the way into her adulthood. You, as the player, witness how Aiden’s presence drives people away from her, attracts the attentions of others, and how her link to him affects the world at large.
You also switch to Aiden, using his powers to interact with the world around you and even make some decisions. His powers are how you interact with the world and advance the story beyond Jodie’s own actions. Possessing people to open gates or even attack other soldiers, choking certain people to death, linking a vision to Jodie’s mind, ect.
So that’s the premise, but how is the execution? It’s a mix between a few scenes of brilliance, an overall quality of very good, but spots a few blemishes.
The story plays out of sequence, so you’ll bounce from a scene with Jodie as a young adult all the way back to when she was five, to then fast-forward to just before the present day. It works very well some times, but other times it seems to fall a bit flat and feels slightly disjointed. There are some plot-holes that can be noticed if you pay attention as well, but they aren’t too glaring.
The pacing was also a noticeable improvement over Heavy Rain for me. The first and second acts mostly avoid any sense of feeling “epic” or larger than life, with even some scenes acting as a normal moment in a normal life (cleaning up the apartment and cooking dinner for a date, as an example). Even then, however, we see how Aiden’s presence influences those events and the meaning of them.
In addition, the third act took a turn that felt a little far fetched, making it seem that it would maybe have been better off staying a bit more “grounded”. From what I understand, however, this is something of a recurring theme in Quantic Dream games.
At the same time, the game falls victim to violating the rule of “show, don’t tell”. As an example, it goes from one scene of us seeing a supporting character acting like a complete toss-bag, only to fast-forward to the next scene where Jodie tells us (through Aiden) that he’s smart and funny while providing no evidence to show how the character’s personality changed in between scenes.
Some of the dialogue also feels like it could have been written better, but the cast makes the most with what they have. The solid performances, when combined with the exceptional facial animation and detail, felt like it brought some scenes to life and made their impact that much more real.
I got involved in the story enough, mostly through the characters, that I was hooked to it. I’d even be lying if I said that some scenes didn’t bring tears to my eyes as you watch Jodie’s entire life story play out in front of you, all of her hardships included.
Keep in mind, this is not a happy story. It deals with abandonment, life and death, and even societal segregation. Jodie’s life is a mess because of Aiden’s presence, and him being there warps the meaning of the smallest and greatest of things.
From what I understand, there are more than a few endings depending on how you chose and influenced things, so I will definitely go back and do a new play-through at some point.
That, however, is what the game is in a nutshell. It’s going to attract and scare away players because of what it is and what you experience.
You’re not buying and playing a game, you are getting and interacting with an exceptionally long movie with quick-time events and some dialogue choices. You are playing more of a role as an observer who is able to influence the story, watching this tormented girl’s life play out before you.
Gamers who are looking for a challenge or engrossing gameplay will not want to even try it, because that is not what Beyond: Two Souls is about. If you’re like me and live for stories and characters, no matter the medium, then it’s worth considering.
I enjoyed my time with Beyond: Two Souls. I thought it was a unique experience in its form of delivery, and the story was interesting to watch play out. There were some hiccups along the way, yes, but I am willing to overlook them in favor of how I felt as everything played out on the screen before me.
If this story sounds like one that you want to experience, and you’re willing to recognize that it isn’t a game in the traditional sense, then I would recommend Beyond to you. I’d maybe suggest waiting for a price drop, since some might take issue with what amounts to a $60, 10-hour movie with QTE’s, but I would suggest trying it none the less.