Beyond: Two Souls is, at its core, a cinematic experience more than a video game. It’s the spiritual successor to Heavy Rain, and if you’re a fan of David Cage’s earlier work then you should know what to expect by now. With a large focus on storytelling and the hiring of some high-quality voice actors, why was it so hard for me to play Beyond: Two Souls beyond two minutes? Let’s find out.
If any game were to drive home the point that a huge budget does not always guarantee the creation of something fantastic, Beyond: Two Souls would be my prime example. The term “cinematic experience” also makes me want to hurl a little.
In Beyond: Two Souls, you’re in control of Jodie (voiced by Ellen Page); a girl who has been tethered to a spiritual companion named Aiden for her entire life. You’ll jump across the timeline of her existence in a non-sequential nature, which seemed to me as some vanilla method of creativity. Never once did this form of storytelling seem effective and I found it to be more bothersome than anything, but when combined with the extreme linearity of the gameplay, it morphed into something nightmares are made of.
Even the plot of Two Souls — its primary focus — is constantly predictable; M. Night plot-twist endings included. You’ll come across your fair share of interesting characters, like a group of homeless people barely scraping by or a family of Navajo knee-deep in their customs and spirituality, but their storylines didn’t really interact with the narrative as it played out. To me, they came off as spin-off side-quests that had a DLC feel, where no matter how important the issue at hand might have been, it was rarely (if ever) spoken about afterwards.
For instance, I spent roughly two hours in the Navajo storyline and really enjoyed the characters I came across (not the gameplay), but they were never mentioned again until the very end when I was asked to select from a list of love interests. They were literally absent in every way, yet one of their faces popped up asking if I’d like to take him on as my life partner after the final cinematic as if it were some sort of choice with consequence hidden behind smoke and mirrors.
Other parts of the game, like the CIA missions (terrible cover-fire and terrain sticking issues included) seem implemented only to appeal to the shooter crowd, who more than likely would have overlooked Beyond: Two Souls from the get go. These “action” sequences were also constantly marred by clunky controls, terrain clipping, sloppy QTE execution and plenty of hand-holding as I made my way from Hallway-A to Hallway-B.
During conversations you’re given multiple choices, but they always seemed to lead to the same outcome. Having an NPC come up to Jodie at a bar and asking if she wanted to play pool, I figured selecting “no” would have left well enough alone. The NPC, however, didn’t get the hint and we ended up playing pool together anyway. This is just one example, but seemed to be a constant trend.
I think the hard part is that choices are there, and I’m sure they alter the conversations in some way, but they were more like a mirage to give that fake sense of choice with consequence, or a “choose your own adventure” book where every choice asked you to turn to the exact same page.
Gameplay switches from exploration/QTE’ing as Jodie to using Aiden to drift between walls and interact with objects with a clunky control scheme. Controlling Aiden was much like I imagined trying to pilot a submarine while using the old wall-clipping cheat code from Doom. In short, it’s a complete mess and a pretty large portion of the game.
Interacting with objects as Aiden is done by holding down the L1 button while flicking both analog sticks back (my girlfriend referred to it as “rubberbanding”, which seems pretty accurate), pulling them apart to possess (should the option actually exist) or pressing them together to KO guards (again, should this option be decided for you by the game itself).
As I just explained, Aiden can possess specific (emphasis on the term “specific”) NPCs to open a door or shoot down other NPCs before offing themselves and allowing Jodie to progress forward. Having the option to possess any NPC would have been a lot more rewarding, but there is literally one NPC in a large group that you can interact with, and they’re chosen for you by the game itself. It’s similar to putting together a jigsaw puzzle, as there is only one way to put the pieces together.
While controlling Jodie, the game itself is one gigantic linear hallway littered with QTE’s. While in combat, the game will slow down and you have to tilt the right analog stick in the direction of Jodie’s body movement. Sounds easy enough in theory, but sometimes it’s impossible to tell exactly which direction she’s going. This isn’t even a big deal as Jodie cannot die at any point during the storyline. Nope.
Graphically, Beyond: Two Souls has some of the best character models and facial animations in a game to date.. when it works as intended. Two Souls suffers from constant texture pop-in (I would say it’s on par with ID’s Rage), occasional screen tearing and constant use of invisible walls.
It was nice to see how Quantic Dream aged certain characters over time, but I was baffled when characters I met once or twice looked noticeably better than a pivotal character, such as Jodie’s adoptive mother who suffered from hair that resembled a created wrestler from a PS2-era Smackdown vs. RAW game.
For all of the money that went in to hiring a top-notch voice cast, it didn’t feel like a lot of their budget went in to fine-tuning the control scheme as I constantly got stuck on terrain, caused cut-scenes to repeat and endured absurdly frequent quick-time events.
Overall, with the story being the primary selling point for Beyond: Two Souls, I didn’t find it engaging and, as I mentioned earlier, found it to be extremely predictable. The voice-acting, as expected, is top-notch, but the clunky controls of both Jodie and Aiden, the constant (albeit expected, as it’s a David Cage “game”) QTE’s, the mangled, non-chronological storytelling and being the apotheosis of linearity caused Two Souls to crash and burn for me at an early stage. I honestly think it could have passed as a CGI mini-series on the SyFy channel, but not as any form of “cinematic experience” masked as a video game.