Beyond: Two Souls - Review

Every once in awhile, a video game company decides to take a step in an unexpected direction. Despite being in a sea filled with the same old thing, they take a risk by traveling uncharted waters, and they hope for the best. This is something the French company "Quantic Dream" has always done with their games. While a lot of game companies stick with the basic genres the world has come to know and love (such as adventure games, action games, shooters, etc), Quantic Dream's games that fall into a category of their own. They are games that walk the fine line between gaming and film, and because of that, they have always been unique.

Beyond: Two Souls is the latest game to be released by Quantic Dream, and it is the second one to be released as a PlayStation 3 exclusive. While the previous games released by Quantic Dream normally revolved around murder (including the PS3 exclusive "Heavy Rain"), Beyond: Two Souls actually takes a step in a different direction. Instead of having kids get kidnapped, or having people waking up only to ponder if they committed a murder or not, Beyond focuses on the life of a young girl... One who is anything, but normal.

The Story of Two Souls:

Beyond: Two Souls is a game that drives itself on its story. The game is in fact made to be a sort of "interactive film," and that becomes quite clear early on. Sure, quite a few games released in the 2000s have had large stories, but Beyond really takes it to a whole new level. The game wasn't at the Tribeca Film Festival for nothing after all.

When players first turn on Beyond, they are greeted by the main character's face. She goes on to introduce herself as Jodie, and she begins to tell the players a story of her life; however, she isn't quite sure where to start. It quickly becomes clear that a lot has happened to Jodie, and she herself is having a hard time piecing it all together. So, she does what anyone would do in this case, and starts from a major event in her life.

The very next scene shows Jodie in a police station being questioned by a cop. No matter what he asks her, Jodie refuses to say a single word. She wont tell him her name, why she is there, where she came from, or even what happened to her. At this point a scar can be seen on the back of Jodie's head, and an image of a man's face flashes before her as she is asked about her family and friends. Overall the scene is very confusing, but soon things really start to get heated up.

"I know, they're coming." After the cop left the room, Jodie finally speaks. At first it appears she is addressing the player and breaking the fourth wall, but soon it becomes clear that this is not the case. The person Jodie is talking to has had a strong connection to her entire life, and it is also someone she truly doesn't understand. He is an invisible entity named "Aiden," and he and Jodie have been joined since her birth. As the FBI break into the police station where Jodie is being held, the screen changes, and before too long, nothing remains in the building other than a pile of bodies; the cop the only one left alive, and Jodie nowhere to be seen.

After this point, the game begins to jump around. Throughout all of Beyond players get to see different key moments in Jodie's life. At one moment a scene will be playing where she is in training for the CIA, but in another she will be a little girl sitting at the window of her not so friendly house. Although the story telling may seem a bit random at times, it truly isn't, and everything does work out in the end. The game is set up so that you'll go into it with many questions, but you'll leave with all of them answered, and a steady timeline put into place. Just why does Jodie join the CIA? Why is she on the run? How did she end up where she is today? The only way to find out is to keep playing.

A Beautiful Drama:

Although you may not realize it at first, Beyond: Two Souls is in fact a drama. This game tells the story of Jodie's hard life, and it doesn't pull any punches. You will see her being sent away crying and screaming, you will see the tough choices she has to make, and you will even see her when she is at the lowest point in her life. While having drama in a video game isn't anything new, the way Beyond presents itself will make you forget all about the others. The game pays great attention to the little details, and just like in real life, these little things are what normally matter the most. As you play through the game, you may forget about the building Jodie was standing in for a scene, but you'll never forget the tears in her eyes as she hugs her stuffed bear. Moments like these will really resonate with you, and they will help pull you into the world.

Another thing that really makes Beyond: Two Souls stand out are the characters, and the actors and actresses who play them. The main character, Jodie, is portrayed by actress Ellen Page, while the lead supporting character, Nathan, is played by Willem Dafoe. Both actress and actor really help bring the game alive, and help you forget that you are even playing a game. Just like with Heavy Rain, all of Beyond was in fact filmed in a motion capture studio, and a great amount of work went into converting these scenes into the game. At times it becomes near impossible to even tell that you are playing a game. Beyond really pushes the PlayStation 3's graphics to its limits, and the game also uses a lot of special effect tricks that you would normally see in films that use CGI. It really is quite amazing to see a PlayStation 3 game look this good, and it really helps add to the experience.

When it comes to the acting, it too is dead on. You can really feel the emotions running through each scene, and even the "minor" characters come to life. The interaction between characters feels natural, and it is very clear that scenes were filmed rather than simply motion captured, and then recorded in a sound booth. Sadly many games on the market today still record cutscenes and the voices to them separately, but at least Beyond wasn't one of them. Having the actors acting out the scenes themselves, voice included, really helped the game feel realistic, and it brought it even closer to being a film. Considering Beyond: Two Souls is based on its story, the acting itself really was key, and everyone really did nail their roles.

The Gameplay:

Despite being an "interactive movie" of sorts, Beyond still does in fact contain gameplay. Throughout each of the scenes you are able to take control of either Jodie or Aiden, and each one of them has their own verity of actions they can preform. Although a lot of the gameplay will be Jodie walking around, there are a lot of objects in the environment that can be interacted with. As you walk by objects, a little white dot will appear over them. This tells you, the player, that by pressing the right analog stick in direction the object is located in, Jodie will be able to interact with it somehow. Sometimes these interactions will be something as simple as picking up a TV remote and turning on the TV, and other times they will be key to the cutscenes; such as one early one where Jodie must climb up a wall at boot camp. At times these interactions will also require you to press a button quickly, or press and hold buttons in a specific order, but these moments mainly come during key story scenes rather than from objects just laying around.

As the story progresses, a few other types of gameplay elements come into effect as well. Sometimes Jodie will be running away in an escape scene, in which you have to use the right analog stick to have Jodie duck under objects, and other times Jodie will actually be in a vehicle you will have control over. Although these scenes are straight forward; they do provide you a little bit more interaction in the world.

When it comes to Aiden, things are a bit different. By tapping the triangle button at anytime (with the exception of a few scenes), the game will switch over to Aiden's control. As Aiden you will enter a first person view, and you will be able to fly around the world interacting with different objects, or people, in different ways. Aiden can be used to break objects, he can be used to move objects, he can be used to take control of people (which then will play the same as Jodie), and he can also trigger switches to help Jodie advance. Often Aiden is used for puzzle solving, but there are quite a few key moments in the story where he will be the only one you can control. Overall, Aiden is just as important to the game's gameplay as Jodie, but he also provides one other twist past games by Quantic Dream lacked. He allows you to play through the game in a co-op mode.

By either using a second controller on the PlayStation 3, or by downloading the Beyond Touch App (on iOS or Google Play), Beyond can be played in co-op. In this mode, one player will take control of Jodie, while the other will take control of Aiden. This allows for much more seamless gameplay, and it allows you to interact with more objects in the world at once. Instead of talking to someone as Jodie, and then using Aiden to move something or break something afterwords; using co-op one player can do the talking, while the other does whatever Aiden needs to do. It really speeds up the gameplay, and it also allows you to understand Jodie even more. In reality Jodie and Aiden are two separate "people," so it is only natural that you control Jodie, while your friend or family member controls Aiden. It is a game about two, for two.

The Choices You Make:

Depending on how you play Beyond, different things will actually happen. Each time you talk to someone, you are given the choice to react in different ways. Although most of the time these choices will lead you down the very same path, it is always nice to try out different things. For example, if you want to be a good little girl and do as you are told, you can; however you also have the option to try and fight back. Even though both routes will lead to Jodie complying with the order, how the result comes about is slightly different. Minor differences like these really help with the game's replay value, but they aren't the only options you have here.

Some scenes can actually be skipped depending on your actions in the game, and by skipping these scenes later ones may become unlocked. For example, in one scene Jodie wants to go somewhere. Now if you do what Jodie wants, and actually go to this place, a scene will play out there, and the game will continue to advance. Now, what if you don't do what Jodie wants, and stay home instead? Well, that in return unlocks a scene much later on in the game which makes up for the "shortened" gameplay experience. Although moments like these are pretty limited (especially compared to Quantic Dream's previous game, "Heavy Rain"), they are still a very welcomed feature. They give you even more of a reason to play through the game for a second time, and it is always nice when you find out your actions managed to change Jodie's life.

The Good and the Bad:

Beyond: Two Souls is not a game for everyone. Considering the fact that it borders on being a film rather than a game, some people may actually be turned off by it. It is a game filled with action you watch rather than truly play, and even the moments you are in full control, are in fact very limited. Sure you can ride a horse around an open desert, but you really aren't going to get anywhere. Yeah, you can drive that bike down them winding roads, but you are always moving forward. If you are the type of person who rather play a game rather than watch cutscens, then Beyond may not be for you; however, that doesn't mean you shouldn't at least give it a try, or watch someone else play it.

If you are really into movies, TV shows, books, or stories in general; Beyond: Two Souls will not disappoint. Sure there are a few awkward moments once in awhile, but you'll see worse in actual movie theaters, or even in the popular TV shows of today. Either way you look at it, the writing is never perfect in anything, and it is very easy to overlook these smaller issues. They really aren't a problem, they do not hold back the game, and chances are you'll forget all about them seconds after the scenes occur. Other than that, the acting, writing, as well as the overall experience, are all rock solid.

Beyond really pushes the PlayStation 3 to its limits, and the amount of work that went into this game is very obvious from the get go. The graphics look great, there are a lot of smaller details which really help the game shine, there is a lot to interact with in the world, there are a lot of extra scenes to be found, there are hidden bonuses to find in the world as Aiden, the co-op mode works amazingly well, the Touch App is a unique new way to play this sort of game, and above all, the story really pulls you in. The game gets extremely emotional, and chances are you will never want it to end. By the time you reach them credits, you will be replaying older scenes, and you will want to see the other possible endings.

Overall, if you are looking for a unique interesting story, Beyond: Two Souls is a must play. It is a story both gamers and non gamers alike can enjoy, and it is another game that makes your PlayStation 3 worth owning. Sure the game isn't perfect, but it is pretty great. This is why I am giving Beyond: Two Souls for the PlayStation 3, a solid 9/10.

If you like story based games, you should check it out.

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