Beyond: Two Souls is back, and developers Quantic Dream have made a few changes in what appear to be an attempt to appease fans and help make the game less confusing. But honestly, as someone who passed on the initial release - so missed seeing the controversy first hand - I had a damn good time playing though the game in the new (mostly) Chronological order mode.
Taking a bit of a step back, I have to say that coming off their critically acclaimed title, Heavy Rain, Quantic Dream had quite the challenge ahead of them when sitting down to create Beyond: Two Souls - and after a less than stellar response from gamers in 2013 on the Playstation 3 (despite our reviewer Hadyn Green giving it high praise), it was quite the surprise to see the title get this new-and-improved re-release on the Playstation 4. Luckily, this time round has seen the title receive a few highly requested changes that I feel make for quite an interesting tale.
During a cutscene near the end, I can see WHY the original release had the events play out of order..... but honestly, I found its reasoning incredibly flimsy, and one that could easily have been done away with. The way I played it made for an incredibly good experience.
You may have noticed that I said “mostly” Chronological, well, that’s because despite the majority of the game being played in order, there are a few moments that are held back for dramatic effect, and I think the game is better for it. This is (at least now) a really well told story - despite the few gameplay annoyances I experienced.
Unclear on-screen prompts; a camera that’s constantly changing, and often feels like it’s in the wrong position; no way to walk faster while exploring an environments, and special powers that only seem to work on characters the developers deem appropriate all make for the negatives. Yet despite the frustration they caused (when they caused it), I still found myself enjoying my time, and wanting to know more about what was going on.
When trying to describe my time with the game to people, I keep falling back on the descriptor, “If you like Joss Whedon’s Dollhouse, you’ll probably like this”. Which I find a little appropriate, as, since their early games, Quantic have been more about crafting interactive, cinematic action / adventure experiences. And rather than focus on the game side of things, they tend to fall more on the side of wanting a compelling, choice-driven narrative - and that’s fine by me.
Now, when I say it’s like Dollhouse, I don’t mean that, storywise, it's really anything like the show. My reasoning is more that Beyond: Two Souls wasn't what I was expecting; it’s more of an awesome interactive season of TV; it doesn't really have a driving force other than "What's going on?" (until the last few chapters); and, as long as you’re playing through the game in Chronological order like I did, then the end ramps up the storytelling quite a bit to the point where I was doing awesome things, people I hated and loved had shown their true colours, and everything came to a reasonable conclusion, despite the massive hole begging for a sequel - all things that I found in Dollhouse (except the interactive TV stuff).
“‘No driving force’? Then what’s the point of the game?” Well, like the main character, Jodie - perfectly played by the Ellen Page, at the start, players are left in the dark quite a bit. You’ll have no idea what’s going on, why this entity (Aiden) is following her around, and we’re left literally living through her life’s biggest moments as she grows from a child, through being a teenager, into the powerful woman you make her - with all the stress and difficult situations that entails.
There’s no real big bad guy or organization whose plans you’re foiling. The story of the game is more about putting yourself in Jodie’s shoes, and reacting to the people and situations that are thrust upon her because of her link with this incorporeal being. And here is where the game both fails… and kind of succeeds, a bit.
During many of the scenarios, I constantly found myself trying to find a way out, and a way to be free, or at least do what I wanted. I didn’t care about these people training me, all I cared was that they were forcing me to do things I didn’t want to do - but that’s EXACTLY what Jodie would have been feeling.
The longer I was forced to stick around, the more I figured, “Well, they are feeding, housing, and teaching me to be the best person I can, so it can’t be all bad - right?”. I still hated them, and wanted to escape, but I found I wasn’t trying (in vain - thanks Quantic) to knock people out every chance I got.
And as the game progressed, I felt more and more like, “hell yeah, I’d totally have done that in her situation”, which made playing through the title in a single session all the easier - because I was engaged, learning about the mystery as Jodie did, and most of all, I was having fun. But this also made the aforementioned moments of frustration more annoying, because they pulled me out of the moment.
Running through an obstacle course, the game expected me to press buttons and perform moves, often without button prompts; I was expected to take my cues from the movement on the screen. During fight scenes, what should have been easy and fun ways to handle no-button-prompt quick-time events often turned into a mess thanks to the camera shot constantly changing, resulting in a moment of confusion as to which side of the screen I was on, and which direction I needed to move the stick to attack or dodge incoming blows.
Now, none of these annoyances resulted in a death, or game-over screen, but they did make me want to replay sections to get a better result - not that I did (yet). What was done was done, and I wanted to see how the game played out, but it was still annoying. Thankfully not all the battles or action-heavy scenes got my fur raised, and I actually found many of the puzzles quite enjoyable - especially those that required me to make use of Aiden’s telekinetic and body-controlling abilities.
So how do the game’s graphics hold up? Well, this is one section I’m more than happy to say is outstanding. We’re talking about a game that’s now two years old, which was released on a last-gen system, and it looks on-par with, if not better than most games you’ll find on the Playstation 4 at the moment.
Character models, movements, and facial animations are life-like, and the environments feel real, and lived in. This is of course helped immensely by the amazing performances given by Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe, Eric Winter, Kadeem Hardison, and the many, many other fantastic actors that Quantic Dream made use of to tell their story.
Beyond: Two Souls really is a great experience, and one that I truly had a good time playing. It is however more like a TV series than game though, as there wasn’t as much gameplay as I would have liked, but making decisions as Jodie (and Aiden I suppose) was a blast, and when the action showed up, it felt more epic than had we been getting into fights every 30 seconds.
If you liked any of Quantic Dreams’ previous titles, or are a fan of pick-a-path adventure titles like those from Telltale Games, I’d say the Playstation 4 version of Beyond: Two Souls will bring a decent amount of joy. The story is a little slow throughout, and it often feels like an interactive cutscene, but the graphics are good, the choices are interesting, the acting is great, and overall I feel the journey is more than worth the price of entry.