Every once in a while, a game is released that greatly polarises critics. Some love it, some hate it – it’s quite a contrast to titles like Grand Theft Auto V or The Last of Us which receive universal acclaim. David Cage, founder of developer Quantic Dream, is at the forefront of creating fresh, innovative and compelling narrative-driven experiences. With titles like as Heavy Rain and Fahrenheit (Indigo Prophecy in the US) under his belt, Cage’s latest endeavour, Beyond: Two Souls, has had quite a standard to live up to.The premise of Beyond: Two Souls is quite difficult to simplify or articulate into a short sentence. It’s one of those games where a quick-fire summary just can’t do justice to the experience, to simplify the story is, I feel, to do a great injustice to the stunning sophistication of the narrative and the emotional integrity of its characterisation. Even so, let’s give it a try:
You play as Jodie, beautifully portrayed by Ellen Page, who has a mysterious psychic connection with an invisible entity named Aiden. Aiden is capable of performing numerous telepathic acts – be it knocking over a chair to distract somebody, taking over their minds to accomplish an objective, or literally making them choke themselves to death to avoid conflict altogether. Aiden has been tied to Jodie’s life from the moment she was born and much of the story focuses not only in understanding what caused this strange connection, but exploring the emotional development of their relationship.
I want to stress the word ’emotional’ here because this game has no boundaries when it comes to making you break down into tears. While the game focuses on Jodie’s life in the style of a non-linear narrative, there are numerous other characters in the game who are almost all just as independently developed as she is.
Willem Dafoe and Kadeem Hardinson take on the roles of Nathan Dawkins and Cole Freeman respectively, each of whom are like father figures to Jodie as she spends much of her early life growing up in a military facility. They’re both doctors of the Department of Paranormal Activity who are working to try to understand Jodie’s connection to Aiden through something called the ‘Infraworld’. As the story progresses, you’re likely to be just as attached to these characters as you are to Jodie. It’s important to note that the relationships that are crafted in the game feel real, they’re in no way contrived for the purpose of bringing emotion out of the player, they simply are written completely naturally and much of that has to be credited to how brilliant a job the actors and actresses did with their delivery of each and every line.
According to Ellen Page, the script for the game is about 2000 pages long. But rather than feeling like this is a daunting prospect, the non-linear narrative spices the game up at every turn. One minute you might be playing as a young Jodie as she explores the house of her foster parents, the next you might skip ahead a decade to an assassination mission for the CIA, or a horror-filled trudge through a science facility which has been ravaged by entities from another world. There is never a dull moment in the game, the pace knows when to go full-throttle and when to hold back. Mystery and exploration is a huge aspect of the game, despite the somewhat linear design of the path you have to take, you’re given a great deal of options when it comes to different encounters. There are even moments in the darker parts of the story where you are freely given the choice to prematurely end the game, but I don’t have the heart to spoil those moments for you. But I turned down every opportunity to do so because I wanted to find out what would happen next in the story and I felt so emotionally attached to Jodie and the characters around her that I just couldn’t bring myself to leave them in such a way.
In Quantic Dream’s enduring style of gameplay, you are obviously going to experience a lot of Quick-Time Events. This is the part, I think, which is going to divide the playerbase because QTEs are something that you either like or hate. Truthfully, QTEs just aren’t my thing, but I have to admit that there were a lot of times where I found myself sat on the edge of my seat during combat scenes where you’d be in slow motion and have to push the stick in the right direction to deal a proper attack. This is a title where co-ordination, timing and speed are essential and somehow that was enough to make me forget about my dislike of QTEs.
A lot of people seem to be suggesting that this game would be better as a film. I have to disagree. Not every game has to conform to the same formula of a run-and-gun shooting-fest, Beyond: Two Souls is a game that focuses heavily on interactivity and exploration – like a more open version of the point-and-click games of old. Not only that, but the game’s length is way beyond any reasonable duration of a film.
So what are my issues with the game? Well, my only major one is with the camera controls which can be very jumpy and disorienting when you move around in some of the smaller areas – it felt a lot like Rayman 2 in that respect, minus the nostalgia factor. Aiden can be quite difficult to position as well because the controls for his movement are very ‘floaty’, understandable considering that he is actually floating, but it’s an annoyance regardless. It’s also not always made clear what your objective is, this is a rare occurrence because the story generally gives you a very good idea of what you have to do and where you have to go, but you will likely find yourself a bit frustrated that you’re wandering around the same environment at quite a slow walking pace with no idea where to go for about 5 minutes. Part of this may be because the icon for objects you can interact with (a small white circle) blends in quite easily with some environments and makes it easy to miss.
Overall though, this was an absolute belter of a game. A deeply emotional journey which, in many ways, deconstructs what it means to be human, to have meaningful relationships with other people and to conquer our darkest fears. That perhaps makes the story sound more upbeat than it actually is, I’d estimate that over half of the game is focused on a series of tragic events and consequences which put Jodie and those around her into very difficult situations. There’s even a whole segment where you have to beg on the streets for money just to feed yourself which offers a number of choices to you that you’re likely to be repulsed by.
While I can understand some of the criticism about this game, I think it’s frankly ridiculous that some reviewers have given it things like 4 and 5 out of ten. Of this, the game is simply not deserving. It’s clear that so much went into the development of this game, from the sublime music to the story, and especially the animation of the characters – on-par with the likes of Halo 4 and The Last of Us.
To conclude, Beyond: Two Souls has a lot to offer somebody looking for a deep, engrossing narrative with compelling characters and entertainment of many different forms. You’ll experience elements of different genres like horror, sci-fi, Western, and perhaps even a bit of noir as well. I never once felt like I wanted to put this game down and when it came to an end, I wanted to jump right back to the beginning to see how things would’ve turned out for Jodie if I’d made different choices in each of the chapters which can lead to about 5 wildly different endings.
Do not make the mistake of missing this game. The story of Jodie and Aiden is one that I’ll hold in my memory for a long time to come.