Beyond: Two Souls
Critic Reviews add missing review
Average score: 73% (based on 115 ratings)
Average score: 3.8 out of 5 (based on 28 ratings with 1 reviews)
* Great Visuals
Lots of variety in tone and setting
Makes use of Sixaxis and touchscreen controls
* Disjointed plot
Arbitrary limitations on ghost powers
Lack of interactivity
The Bottom Line
With its motion-captured performances from Hollywood talent, realistic graphics, and thumping score, Beyond: Two Souls doesn’t just want to be seen as a mere “game”. It wants to be viewed as a movie, and it lets you know this right from the beginning. After all, how many games list their lead actors on the front cover?
This hokey-but-intriguing “interactive supernatural thriller” details the life of the main character Jodie Holmes, played by actress Ellen Page, whom you might remember seeing in films such as Inception, Juno, and the X-Men series. Jodie is a girl who has an “entity” named Aiden attached to her soul by a spiritual tether. The relationship is essentially a girl-and-her-dog. Aiden doesn’t speak, but is always willing to protect Jodie if things get too rough for her. Each chapter of the game portrays Jodie at a different point in her life: some chapters take place during her childhood, some as a teenager, and some as an adult.
We see how having Aiden attached brings Jodie many advantages and superpowers, but we also see how these same advantages bring her under the control of people who aren’t necessarily interested in her as a person, but rather what Aiden is capable of.
The gameplay mainly consists of walking around various environments and moving the right thumbstick to interact with specific items and characters. During conversations, the player can press face buttons to select dialog options for Jodie, though the game will choose if the player does not.
The game is filled with numerous quick time events (QTEs) and button prompts. During certain points of the game you might have to mash a button to run from something, or shake and tilt the controller in a certain way. This is one of the very few PS3 games that I’ve played that actually uses the Sixaxis, so I guess that counts for something. A number of QTEs during action-heavy sequences simply don’t show button prompts at all, and instead ask the player to infer the “correct” direction to move the right thumbtack based on how Jodie is moving. This is a great idea to not make the action sequences feel completely mindless. However, there are several times when what I thought was the “correct” direction didn't match what was happening on-screen. It didn’t really matter that much though: the game is extremely forgiving with the QTEs since the story HAS to keep going, no matter what happens.
Some scenes allow the player to take control of Aiden. When doing this, Aiden can fly around a scene to search for interactive objects. When interacting with objects, different motions of the thumbsticks accomplish certain things: for example, to push an object, both thumbsticks are moved backwards diagonally and released.
Seemingly every chapter during the game’s first half has Aiden showcase some sort of new power. Oh look, Aiden can possess people and animals! He can choke people! He can create a force field to protect Jodie! He can even heal wounds! The amount of deus ex machinae the game relies on at almost every turn is almost comical. Being a ghost is an awesome power fantasy, but it doesn’t make for a compelling game unless there are strict limitations placed on what the ghost can and can’t do. Unfortunately, Beyond: Two Souls is annoying in the way Aiden is portrayed.
This is because when controlling Aiden, you can only interact with objects in one way. He can only push certain objects, but not others. When fighting enemies, he can only possess or choke certain characters, but not others. Some walls can be passed through, but not others. No in-game reason is ever given for these fuzzy, artificial limitations. Thus Aiden’s supposedly incredible supernatural abilities end up feeling constrained by the whims of the game designers, rather than feeling like a part of the world in the game.
What frustrates even more is when the game teases you with hints of deeper interactivity. There are exactly two stealth sequences that play like a very, very dumbed down version of Metal Gear Solid. There are also a couple of sections where Jodie can drive vehicles, including a motorcycle and a horse. These sections hardly compare to the “traditional” games that they are aping, with stiff controls and a very guided feel.
One feature that I want to mention is that the game can be entirely played using a smartphone or tablet. You have to have the console and the device connected to the same wireless connection, but once its set up it actually ends up working really well. Almost too well, actually, since playing with a touchscreen dumbs down the controls to just simple tapping and swiping: you don’t even need to remember which buttons to push, just tap the screen!
The game’s storytelling is extremely odd. While the story’s out-of-order structure can be effectively used to add mystery and intrigue to a story, the only thing it accomplishes here is tonal confusion. How can we go from one scene where adult Jodie and Aiden kill almost an entire SWAT team to one where young Jodie gets disturbed that Aiden nearly killed a boy?
On top of that, it also harms any sense of your choices shaping the narrative, since scenes later in life shown earlier in the game cannot contradict the continuity of those that happen earlier in life but later in the game. You can decide the fate of some characters in certain scenes, but it doesn’t really matter what you do since they are never mentioned at all until the very end of the game. Only during the last few chapters does the game settle for a purely linear form of storytelling. The game ends up jamming in most of the important, ending-changing choices during these chapters, but as far as I know there’s not a whole lot you can do to change the overall narrative during the rest of the game, even though choices that you make can cause individual scenes to play out slightly differently.
It seems like the story is trying to go along with any number of genres and themes all at once, rather than sticking with something and developing organically from there. The chapters where Jodie is on CIA missions feel like they come from a different game entirely, with action-movie flair, exotic locales, mustache-twirling villains, and futuristic, James Bond-like technology. One chapter has Jodie investigating a spirit that haunts a Navajo family in Arizona. Another chapter has a teenaged Jodie sneaking out and visiting a bar. Still, another chapter has Jodie living on the streets as a homeless person. Admittedly, some of the chapters, individually, are pretty interesting. The pieces do end up getting connected at the end of the game, but you wonder why you had to play through some of these scenes when they were ultimately so minor in the grand scheme of things.
Beyond: Two Souls is definitely a technically impressive game, but it comes at the cost of meaningful interactivity. There’s just not a whole lot here once you look past the surface. Still, it’s hard to deny just how impressive that surface is. Some of the environments are quite photo-realistic, and the facial expressions and motion capture, especially during intense moments look almost jaw-dropping. Released only a little over a month before the launch of the PS4, this was the very last major first-party exclusive for the PS3, and the level of polish shown here showcases that fact very well.
Beyond: Two Souls is a lot of things, but in the end it’s a spectacular mess that is both compelling and frustrating in equal measure. It doesn’t really excel in any particular area outside of the amazing production values. Yet the story is initially intriguing and has a reasonably satisfying ending, even it is far too schizophrenic and disjointed for its own good. Even so, it would have likely been better told as a tight two-hour movie, or even a TV miniseries, rather than a dragged-out 10 hour game. And as a game, Beyond: Two Souls is frustratingly limited, filled with quicktime events, half-baked action sequences, and superficial choices that have little to no impact on the overall narrative. In the end, Beyond: Two Souls doesn’t end up fully succeeding as either movie or game. But it’s such an interesting failure in combining the two that it’s hard not to recommend at least giving it a look, especially if you are a fan of “narrative” games.
PlayStation 3 · by krisko6 (813) · 2016