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Beyond: Two Souls A Game Unlike Any Other

Going in to Beyond: Two Souls I wasn't sure to what to expect. Since its release in October I've heard a multitude of opinions, most of which have been polarizing and often times contradicting. At the time many renowned journalist and gamers alike gave Beyond: Two Souls unimpressive scores, while others vehemently sang its praises. Some have told me to "stay away from it", that it's "not much of a game". Yet some of my friends have told me that it's "dope" and an "unforgettable experience". Why so many opposing opinions? I suppose it could all be chalked up to personal preference. That being said, while my review may not serve as that needed guiding light amidst the sea of confusion I will try my best to provide an unbiased and accurate account of what I've experienced.

 

What is Beyond: Two Souls

To sum it up briefly for those who may be unfamiliar with the title, Beyond: Two Souls is an interactive drama game release October 8th 2013, that revolves around a protagonist by the name of Jodie played by none other than Ellen Page, and the mysterious spirit attached to her. The game spans a whopping 15 years, chronicling Jodie's journey through life all the while being bound to inexplicable entity. Among Ellen Page, the all-star cast consists of big name stars such as William Dafoe and Kadeem Hardison.

 

Narrative

Let us start with the narrative. Beyond: Two Souls is a game whose narrative could be best described as surreptitious. The lack of a consistent chronological order results in a cryptic timeline left for the player to decode and the load screens to piece together. Even after finishing the game there are still a few sequences whose proper order I am uncertain of. Might this be frustrating? For some players yes, indeed it was. For me, overall I found it challenging and suspenseful. Not knowing what would come next and seeing how an event in Jodie's adolescence connected to an occurrence in her childhood was an exciting experience. The absence of a coherent passage of time makes the decisions you make all the more difficult. You are not only without knowledge of how these decisions may affect your future but you are also without knowledge of past events in Jodie's life, leaving you with no guide on how to approach her current situation. This strange choice in storytelling makes for an interesting scenario when making important choices and leaves you open to unknowingly creating a less desirable outcome for yourself. Even still, if you do not find Quantic Dream's attempt at raising the stakes to be a justifiable enough reason to dismember and dishevel the storyline you can at least take solace in knowing that the cause of such a peculiar approach to the games narrative is explained at the end of the game making it less out of place than it may initially seem.

Moving away from the confusing sequence of events, Beyond: Two Souls does an excellent job of making you feel for the protagonist and even some of the side characters. Scenes of a helpless and forsaken child, the struggles of the lost and demoralized homeless, and the almost constant looming presence of death all make for blockbuster worthy tearjerkers. There may even be moments when you're shouting at your TV screen, or times when you sit in utter silence reflecting on the severity of Jodie's predicament. Whatever you reaction may be one thing is for certain, you will have a reaction. Quantic Dream absolutely went out of their way to make the player feel and it's one trophy they've most certainly earned.

 

Graphics

The graphics in Beyond: Two Souls are breathtaking! They are probably the best PlayStation 3 graphics that I've seen to date.  While Beyond: Two Souls doesn't perfectly nail Nikon quality realism there were times that I had to double take because the facial shots looked so realistic. If you thought Heavy Rain's graphics were incredible then it's safe to say that you'll be blown away by those of Beyond: Two Souls. Even small particles at times appear with perfect clarity, something that not many game developers have been able execute. However, even though Beyond: Two Souls flawlessly pulls off facial graphics at times the remainder of a characters body can appear stiff and generic. While this is not a persistent issue, it does exist and it's one I'd like to see resolved in future Quantic Dream productions.

 

Gameplay

One of the biggest arguments against Beyond: Two Souls is that it lacks gameplay. I believe that the correct argument would be to say that it lacks traditional gameplay. Beyond: Two Souls consists of a mixture of simple motions and Quick Time Events with a tad bit of strategic button pressing. You can fight a host of enemies in hand to hand combat, stealthily move about rooftops to avoid potential combatants, send your tethered soul Aiden off to wreak havoc, use your psychic prowess to see in to the windows of the past, or even just use the controls to pick up your favorite stuffed animal. The reality is there is more that you can do, than there is that you can't do. Given the cocktail of ways to approach the environment it almost doesn't make since to insinuate that there is no gameplay. I think the problem for some people is not so much the lack of gameplay but the inability to spontaneously choose how to interact with the environment. In some situations you'll simply be able to use the controls to navigate Jodie or Aiden and examine items. There are even some instances where you are even restricted in which soul (either Jodie or Aiden) that you can use. Overall no game is one hundred percent freedom of choice, however the gameplay in Beyond: Two Souls is indeed heavily scripted and for some such rigorous linearity can become trite and mundane.

 

Controls

I cannot speak of the gameplay without speaking of the controls. The controls were by far my biggest and perhaps only serious issue that I have with Beyond: Two Souls. They made the gameplay down right painful at times. I cannot begin to tell you how often I found myself repeatedly walking in and out of the same door frame simply because I could not master the ability to move with the camera. But the changing camera angles aren't the only reason I had difficulty. In the fight scenes and QTE's you are tasked with reading Jodie's body movement and in response you are supposed to move in the direction that she moves. The issue is that I often couldn't tell where she was moving! Just as I would think I've finally got things down packed she'd move in a way I just couldn't quite decipher and everything would begin to go downhill from there. I believe that it's safe to say that if Beyond: Two Souls wasn't such a linear game the poor control scheme would have resulted in many a "Game Over" screens. As I've only played Beyond: Two Souls all the way through once I can't say with certainty as to whether or not your  performance in the fight scenes really makes a difference to the story or not, but if by chance it does that is all the more reason to dislike the poor controls. Luckily, the storyline progresses whether you perfectly completed a fight scene or not, however that does not excuse the iffy control scheme!

 

So what's the verdict?

Overall I would say that Beyond: Two Souls is a great game! The storyline is interesting and at times extremely moving. The decisions, while sometimes seemingly insignificant are weighty and challenging in terms of predicting the resulting outcome. The graphics are superb and almost always unfaltering. And the gameplay, while frustrating to some is different and innovative to others. However the control scheme is at times abysmal and has a tendency to consistently negatively affect gameplay. And as well written as the game is, and as much as it makes you feel for Jodie, there are other characters whose purpose you'll be left pondering as they are immediately made irrelevant by a shift in the timeline, and most often in my experience never revisited. Beyond: Two Souls is most certainly a great game but it is not without its flaws. Because of this, I would give it an 8 out of 10. However, due of the variations in every individuals personal preference it is a game that I recommend everyone to go play and see for themselves. 

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