Quantic Dream games are like Tommy Wiseau’s The Room. You end up liking them for their weird, unintentional shenanigans that make the game hilarious while trying to be a serious piece of art. I wish this was the case for Beyond: Two Souls. David Cage has taken a few steps forward but even more steps back when it comes to the interactive-movie-game- genre-thing they are going for. I’ll have to keep comparing Beyond to Quantic Dream’s last game, Heavy Rain because the whole time I played Beyond, I was just waiting for that hilarious “JASON” moment. It never came.
The story follows 15 years in the life of Jodie Holmes (Ellen Page), a girl/teenager/woman with a connection to a mysterious entity. The entity has all the powers of ghosts and entities before it, telekinesis, possession, healing and can even directly kill some people. Beyond also stars Willem Dafoe as a paranormal researcher and Jodie’s caretaker. Page and Defoe both hold the game together with their performances but there is no way to act over bad writing. You’d think for a character driven game, there would be a lot of character development, but Jodie barely has a personality at all. The only device used to endear Jodie to the audience is empathy during her struggles in life. The rest of the character is covered by Page’s acting and she does a great job of portraying a range of characters from an angst- filled teen to a CIA operative. However, Beyond seems to take the subject of suicide very lightly, and there are at least three different incidents where Jodie comes close to killing herself. It seems like a cheap tactic to gain empathy from the audience and doesn’t do a lot for the character or story. You want to see your character overcome adversity, not just avoid killing herself because I pressed the button telling her not to.
Beyond has all the classic David Cage elements, there’s even two different shower scenes for Ellen Page. Every Quantic Dream game has a point where everything goes to shit and you wonder what you’re even playing. Indigo Prophecy has the kung-fu fight with a helicopter; Heavy Rain has the clock store. Without spoiling it, for Beyond this point is ‘Navajo’ (you’ll know). The scene draws out for at least an hour and has absolutely no purpose in the story. The story is told non-linearly and jumps around back and forth with every new scene. This doesn’t actually add to the story though, and you can play it chronologically and it will be exactly the same. After seeing the last season of Breaking Bad do non-linear story so well, it just seems like an attempt to make a somewhat lacklustre story seem more interesting.
Of course there are multiple endings to Beyond, but they are all just tied in during the last cut-scene, and you just press a button to select which ending you want. At least with Heavy Rain, your ending was determined by your choices in the last 50% of the game. With Beyond, the options are just right in front of your face and nothing you do in the entire game makes much of a difference. For a game with choices to be effective, your choices don’t have to actually make a huge difference, but they have to feel like they make a difference, such as in The Walking Dead. Here, there is literally a scene where you have the choice to dance or not and no matter what you do, you are still forced to dance uncomfortably. At least they actually explain why there are entities going around the world and they tie up everything nicely at the end, even hinting at a sequel (I doubt it).
The main selling point of this game was controlling both Jodie and Aiden, the mysterious entity attached to her. This is such an interesting and unique mechanic, but how is it used in Beyond? Mostly just to push around random objects and open doors. For a game that is supposed to be about making choices, they went overly linear with their main game play mechanic. You can only possess or kill who the game tells you to and there is usually only one option to resolve a situation. They had such a great opportunity to create unique puzzles and be able to solve them in different ways. Instead, you’re using your mighty entity powers to knock a chair over. The one exception is the scene ‘The Mission’, a stealth sequence where you use your powers to sneak past enemies undetected. I would have liked to see more of this or it be expanded on, but you only get to do this in one scene. Most of your time in Beyond is spent walking very slowly so you’re forced to admire how nice everything looks.
The developers said they want to make a game more like playing life and don’t want you to even think about using button prompts. To do this, they replaced the directional button prompts from Heavy Rain with white orbs that you can interact with when you push the analog stick towards. This works quite well when you figure out what’s going on and is less intrusive than the big left and right arrows of Heavy Rain. However, they went a bit too far with this concept when it comes to action scenes. You are not given any prompt at all and instead have to move the analog stick in the direction Jodie is moving her body when the scene is slowed down. I failed about half of these prompts. It’s often unclear whether Jodie is attacking or blocking something so you just have to guess which direction you’re supposed to press.
The graphics and environments are where Beyond really shines. Developing exclusively for PS3 helps with that. It’s almost as if Quantic Dream were saying “hey everyone, look how good at environments we are!” There are sweeping desert plains, cold and gritty cities and African cities mid-rebillion, all of them look beautiful. The motion capture is very impressive, seeing as it spans across 15 years. Child Jodie looks like Ellen Page as a child and Willem Dafoe looks like he would 15 years ago. All the actors and the motion capturing of their performances really pulled this game together.
I’m not sure who to recommend this to. It doesn’t quite have that unintentional quirky charm Heavy Rain had, and if you’re not a fan of the interactive movie genre than you’re not going to appreciate all the walking around in Beyond. However, it does make me optimistic about a few things. We might see more big acting names lending their likeness and voices to video games (so long as this didn’t scare them off). It also makes me optimistic about the PS4, as this is really the PS3 as far as it can go graphically. Maybe when this game is less than $89 you can pick it up and experience it for yourself.