Love him or loathe him, David Cage is certainly a unique personality. “Game overs are a failure of the game designer” being a stand-out quote from his, and yes, going through his latest offering Beyond: Two Souls he has eradicated the “Game Over” screen completely, but in doing so has created a game where challenge is non-existent. Beyond is certainly an odd beast, one after completing, is still difficult to put into words.
The last big console exclusive before the next generation arrives, Beyond: Two Souls continues David Cage and Quantic Dreams goal of creating a game that will emotionally engage the player with characters and choices that will have an impact. Quantic Dreams last game Heavy Rain attempted this, and while it may have missed the mark on a few occasions, it was not lacking in ambition. Problem is, since the release of Heavy Rain we’ve seen the release of The Last of Us and The Walking Dead. The latter especially fits in perfectly with what Cage has been attempting since his second game Fahrenheit. So it’s quite sad to see Beyond: Two Souls sacrifice the ambition that has always been prevalent in the previous Quantic Dream entries.
While the player is making choices and certain scenes can have different outcomes, they can feel quite inconsequential in the grand scheme of things. The player is essentially on rails, riding to a pre-determined location, at least until the last ten minutes where memories of Mass Effect 3 came flooding back. And with the lack of challenge you feel like a casual observer as opposed to an actual player. Really if it weren’t for the stand-out performances from the two leads it would be a very difficult game to persevere with.
Ellen Page and Willem Dafoe are outstanding as the two main characters. Ellen Page playing Jodie, someone linked to an entity/spirit who she calls Aiden, with Dafoe playing the doctor Nathan Dawkins who wants to study the link they share. As the story progresses the game keeps jumping between different times, from child to adult, and back again. An interesting idea, but one that would have worked just as well if it just followed the story chronologically instead of randomly jumping to different moments of Jodie’s life without rhyme or reason. It almost feels like someone threw darts at a wall in order to select where the story goes next. Story wise it does start off slowly, but soon finds its feet a few hours in, and aside from a few crazy moments where memories of Fahrenheit’s hilarious Matrix fight scenes came flooding back, did keep us relatively engaged. So for acting and writing it’s certainly an improvement over Heavy Rain.
There are moments however where the old David Cage comes out and you’re treated to uncomfortable shower scenes, half naked ladies and a middle section of the game that is quite frankly so ludicrous it feels like you’ve jumped into another game entirely. It does make us wonder how much better these games would be if Cage actually hired a real writer as opposed to doing it all himself. On the plus side, at least Jodie is a competent female lead, can fight with the best of them, and isn’t just in the game to serve as eye candy for a male lead.
It’s weird that this far into the review and the word gameplay has yet to be uttered, probably because it feels like the story was written first and the gameplay then wrapped around it. If you’re familiar with Quantic Dreams previous work then you’ll be familiar with a lot of Beyond. Certain sections of the story having you control Jodie walking around the environment, talking to people and interacting with various items. The difference now is the on-screen prompts are a little different. Instead of having giant buttons there are just small dots. Pushing the right stick in the direction will allow you to interact with it. It’s clear they were going for a more filmic experience by not littering the environment with giant prompts. The right stick action also coming in to play with the many fights and chase sequences littered throughout Beyond. The action going into slow motion and pushing the right stick in the direction Jodie is moving to avoid getting hit or fighting your attackers. At times it works well, others it’s hard to tell which direction you’re supposed to be moving.
The most interesting gameplay aspect is Aiden. Pressing Triangle and you can start to control spirit Aiden floating around the world. You can’t venture too far from Jodie though due to the link. From this spectral view it’s all about manipulation. Focusing on certain objects and using the right stick can movie objects, this can be used to distract people or as a way to attack or just frighten. With Aiden you can also use these powers to take control of people which does lead to some interesting sequences. Some where you have to move the possessed character around, others where you make him turn on his friends.
After completing Beyond: Two Souls it’s understandable why this is one of the most divisive games around. Even now it’s difficult to say whether we enjoyed it or not, it’s certainly an interesting game, and does have some nice ideas. So despite a story that feels disjointed, tonally uneven and a mid-section that feels completely out of place, it’s something that is different enough from the norm that maybe, just maybe it’s worth picking up.