Heavy Rain 2. That is what most people thought when they saw the announcement of Beyond: Two Souls for the first time. Which is not much of a surprise considering the game was being made by the creators of Heavy Rain, promising a similar cinematically driven gameplay experience that has become characteristic of all David Cage games.
With the passage of time, it began to be known as the ‘other’ Ellen Page game, mistakenly referring, of course, to the likeness of Ellie in The Last of Us. With the release of Naughty Dog’s masterpiece all eyes turned to joy of playing The Last of Us and Beyond: Two Souls faded into obscurity.
As the era of current console generation nears its end, the game has shot back into prominence as perhaps the last hurrah of the PlayStation 3 console in its ability to wow the gamers by its graphical prowess and unique exclusive games.
Therefore, it is now time to take a deeper look into the game to find out whether Beyond: Two Souls has been able to offer a substantive enough change to earn its way out of being just a retread of Heavy Rain and stand on its own legs.
Beyond: Two Souls takes place throughout the life time of a young girl named Jodie, who is played by Ellen Page. The game follows Jodie through her adolescence and adulthood as she learns to deal with her connection with her spirit companion named Aiden.
Whereas Heavy Rain was a straight-forward murder mystery drama, Beyond: Two Souls is an action thriller which tells its tale through a non-linear storytelling where the narrative jumps back and forth between different moments in the life of Jodie.
While the use non-linear style of narrative is certainly novel in this entertainment genre and adds to the character of the game, its use also harms the storytelling in some circumstances where jump in time hurts the pacing, or the scene/level ends without resolving the underlying narrative element, or when the time spent with new supporting characters is not enough to build emotional resonance leading to feeling of underdeveloped characterizations.
Problem with a cinematic game is that even small inconsistencies distract and detract from the experience. However, this does not seriously jeopardize the game experience as the narrative is still competent enough and the story mostly flows smoothly from start to finish.
With its brisk pace, Beyond: Two Souls certainly has a different tone to its narrative than Heavy Rain’s solemn and deliberate approach.
While the game is in a different genre than Heavy Rain when it comes to storytelling, it still falls in the the same gameplay genre as its predecessor.
Just like Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls features a ‘choose your adventure’ style of gameplay where the player choices lead to divergent paths and different experiences. The game is less of “How do I get this done” and more of “Let’s see what happens when I do this.”
However, Beyond: Two Souls is much more action oriented than Heavy Rain with less mundane tasks like shaving and changing clothes and more of a hands-on gameplay with elements of exploration, action and even some stealth.
Instead of overly relying on Quick Time Events as a means to inculcate player involvement in the cinematic experience, Quantic Dream has managed to come up with a better solution through a mix of intuitive command based cinematic actions and context-based gameplay.
Though still not perfect, the walking controls have been improved tremendously from Heavy Rain, and the game employs simpler prompts and six-axis controls making the actions more precise and less trial and error.
For its exploration elements, the game utilizes right analogue stick for context-sensitive actions to take care of interacting with the environment. The game also cleverly dispenses with screen covering prompts and makes use of character expressions and body movements as visual cues for such context-sensitive actions.
And while this is much better alternative to interactive via QTEs, it does sometimes lead to confusing situations where camera movement coincides with an intractable part of the area.
Another novel addition to Beyond: Two Soul’s gameplay is the addition of the spirit known as Aiden. When controlling this being, players are able to explore every axis of the nearby environment and even clip through walls and people.
Moreover, Aiden can also invisibly interact with objects and possess certain NPCs which can lead to interesting eventualities.
While some might complain about the imprecise controls for Aiden, I think that the choice for floaty controls seems like a deliberate choice by the developers considering the nature of Aiden’s persona.
Furthermore, Beyond: Two Souls also allows for Dual Player support where two people can play the game, one controlling Jodie and the other Aiden.
The game also supports use of touch screen devices as alternatives to controllers, making the game even more intuitive to control and certainly more approachable for non-gaming audiences.
While Beyond: Two Souls does manage to provide a much more cohesive and action-packed product than Quanitic Dream’s previous effort in Heavy Rain, the game still belongs in the same genre of cinematic adventure games and as such might not appeal to gamers that cannot stand long story driven cinematics.
Even with all its gameplay refinements, Beyond: Two Souls is not the game to play if you are looking for twitch gameplay and competitive action.
The game stays true to its vision and succeeds in providing an experience that is both awe-inspiring in its presentation and thematically thought provoking yet it is approachable and user friendly in its gameplay and narrative.
Unlike the drab and dreary monotone environments of Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls offers full use of vibrant color palette through its variety in environments and scenery.
Whether Jodie is in a pristine palace, a ruined laboratory, a moving train, a gloomy slum, a dark forest or bright open dessert, she is surrounded by colors ranging from bland urban palettes to bright colors of the outdoors.
Each area is beautiful to behold and often starkly different from other environments in the game.
However, the game sometimes lacks consistency in the level of polish afforded to most of the environment, this is noticeable in the little details like some inanimate objects which come off looking a little bland and less detailed than other things on the screen.
Moreover game suffers from other visual hiccups like occasional but noticeable popups in scenery and occasions where prompts get hard to see in hectic scenes when a lot is happening on screen at once.
However, the real stars of the game are the characters, and Beyond: Two Souls flexes its graphical muscles when presenting its human characters.
The game offers unprecedented level of detail in its characters, especially when it comes to the facial features of its main characters.
These characters are so detailed that one can see the pores and changes in pigmentation on their skin when the character is up close to the camera.
Artists at Quantic Dream have meticulously crafted the likenesses of its star voice actors so that when you look at Jodie, you will see Ellen Page’s unmistakable likeness and same goes for Willem Dafoe’s Nathan.
It is not only in their visual likeness that these stars shine through in the game.
Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe give stellar performances as the emotional youngster; Jodie and rational father figure; Nathan.
And while rest of the supporting cast’s performance is sometimes found lacking when compared to their Hollywood counterparts, they are still competent enough to carry the flow of the narrative without detracting from it.
Beyond: Two Souls also features mostly competent dialogue that does not go into unintentionally ham fisted territory like Heavy Rain.
Moreover, the game features a wonderful sound design with varied soundtrack that adapts commendably to mellow and emotional moments as well as more action packed scenarios.
All in all, Beyond: Two Souls excels in its cinematic presentations and sticks true to the feel of a true blockbuster Hollywood thriller all while giving control to players to shape the path of the narrative and be part of the story itself.
With its intriguing subject matter and visuals that are a treat to behold, Beyond: Two Souls offers a cinematic experience that will surely enthrall fans of Quantic Dream’s previous endeavors, however the improvements and refinements made in its gameplay system make it a fairly different experience than its predecessor which might just be enough for detractors of Heavy Rain and Indigo Prophecy to take a shine to this game.
Not only does the game avoid becoming a QTE-fest, it allows the players to control cinematic moments with HUD-less, intuitive prompts that don’t break away from the immersion of its world yet allows the players to succeed or fail, causing the event to change.
Furthermore, controlling Aiden the spirit is also a unique experience that opens up interesting opportunities to explore the environment and interact with objects and characters.
Beyond: Two Souls features remarkably fluid animation through its motion capture work and remarkable detail in facial features and characters. While the game continuously razzles and dazzles with its diverse and gorgeous environments it does falter in couple of places with less than stellar detail in objects and inanimate items.
Armed with a much better dialogue script than Heavy Rain, the celebrity actors Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe bring their A game to the table and provide a near flawless vocal performance. While the supporting characters could have benefited from tad bit better voice acting, there are very few instances of unintentionally comical moments that detract from the overall experience of the game.
Beyond: Two Souls is not only distinct in the way it approaches cinematic gameplay, but it also offers a uniquely character driven experience in a narrative that blends aspects of thriller and action movies with sci-fi and fantasy setting. Moreover, the game takes a less traveled road of non-linear story telling approach that differentiates it from the myriad of story-driven games in the market.
However, the non-linear storytelling can also lead to unresolved moments and underdeveloped supporting characters.
A main storyline that takes around 10-12 hours to complete, coupled with the immense replay-ability brought forth by making different choices leading to diverging outcomes and the additional fun of dual play, the game packs considerable amount of replay considering the linear nature of its genre.
Beyond: Two Souls addresses most of the concerns and mistakes made by its predecessor and offers additional improvements to the ‘choose your adventure’ genre to make the ride eventful and highly entertaining.
While the game is still bound by the nature of its storytelling mechanic it offers a much more hands on approach to cinematic storytelling that is sure to please those that prefer to play rather than watch.