Beyond: Two Souls – review

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  • Format: PS3
  • Unleashed: Out Now
  • Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
  • Developer: Quantic Dream
  • Players: 1 (2 if you’re prepared to use a smartphone app)

This review is my tribute to David Cage. I’m breaking all the Critical Gamer reviewing rules! I’m writing in first person, I am paying no heed to the word count, and who knows? Maybe I’ll purposefully throw in a spelling mistake or two. I’m a goddamned maverick, just like Cage. If you don’t like this review then it’s obviously because you’re scared of the fact that it isn’t the sort of thing you’re used to, and you should stick to tabloid journalism.

In all seriousness though, it’s important to quickly shoot down a common misconception. It’s not true that ‘you either like David Cage games or you don’t’. Take my good self for example. I hugely enjoyed Fahrenheit (known to American chaps and chapettes as Indigo Prophecy) and, for all its flaws – including numerous plot holes big enough to drive a Jean Claude Van Damme movie through – I enjoyed Heavy Rain. I do not like Beyond: Two Souls, however. In fact, it is one of the worst games I have ever played.

A very good starting point for explaining why will be to post a video showing a clip from the movie Mr Bean’s Holiday (stay with me here). You see, Willem Dafoe is one of the two big Hollywood names in Beyond, and his inclusion is amusingly ironic. Watch the following and, if you replace ‘Carson Clay’ with ‘David Cage’, well… I’ll let you take from that what you will.

Now, Beyond itself. There are good things to be said about it. Getting past the fact that the game suffers from whacking great black borders at the top and bottom of the screen (just like a film!), it’s an extremely nice looking game. Very pretty graphics. The musical score by Hans Zimmer (who’s worked on films!) is very professional, as you’d expect. It also must be said that Ellen Page (the actress – from films!) gives a much better performance than the toilet paper-grade script deserves. Willem Dafoe (the actor – from films!) does a commendable job with what he’s been given, too. I also experienced a total of two witty lines spoken during my playthrough, and I even sort of had fun at one point. More on that later.

With so much money clearly spent on the headliners, it was perhaps inevitable that the casting of bit-part actors (of which there are many) would suffer. It seems that these parts were awarded as prizes in a raffle. Some minor players are actually very good; while others are cringe-inducingly bad. Going back to the big names, their talents are criminally wasted. Although her talent hides it well, Page is asked to do little more than be scared, angry or upset whilst looking like she’s just woken up. Dafoe is handed an even weaker part; he is almost never required to do more than smile and/or act concerned until the final chapter, when his character takes a laughably unbelievable turn.

Before I attempt to explain how and why the script is an abomination offensive to the very fabric of existence itself, allow me to talk about the gameplay – or lack thereof. Quantic Dream have here created the world’s first videogame that doesn’t even have a one player mode. Oh yes, you can pick up a pad and move your thumbs and make the pictures and sounds change on the TV, but you’re certainly not playing. Notoriously, Heavy Rain kept interactivity to something of a minimum. A variety of factors helped mask or alleviate this, however. There were multiple characters to control, you could often make a choice which would make you wonder how things would pan out if you acted differently, and the player could often walk their avatar around the environment to explore. Also, the writing wasn’t consistently terrible. None of this is true for Beyond: Two Souls.

“I just found him like this. I… I think he collapsed from boredom.”

Flick the right stick towards a white dot to open a door. Flick the right stick towards a white dot to pick up a drink. Flick the right stick towards a white dot to put the drink back down again. Flick the right stick towards an enemy in slo-mo to throw a punch. Flick the right stick away from an enemy in slow-mo to avoid a punch. Hold X to run toward and hide behind cover. Tap a button to choose a conversation option. Use the left stick to walk until you reach your destination, where you need to flick the white stick towards…

Reading the preceding paragraph is about as thrilling as playing the game. In all fairness however, it only applies to Jodie, Page’s character. Controlling her ghost-thing friend Aiden is completely different. The controls for floating around invisibly are simple yet, incredibly, cumbersome. Before you get excited, exploring as Aiden is strictly controlled. So strictly in fact that the distance he can travel (he’s tethered to Jodie) is massively inconsistent depending on what the script demands. Even his very nature is inconsistent. Which walls, doors, floors and ceilings he can pass through are ferociously dictated by the script. Sometimes, he can kill or possess enemies. Only the ones the game tells you of course, and no explanation is ever given for why you can’t simply choose to kill and/or possess every single human Aiden comes across.

Aiden can also move or break (some) objects, meaning Beyond is at times something of a poltergeist simulator. This is basically to show Jodie is unhappy about something, to scare people, or to get someone’s attention. It’s not nearly as fun as it might sound – apart from one early section, where you can choose to take revenge on a bunch of bratty teenagers that acted in a beastly way toward a young Jodie. Perhaps it’s simply down to the fact that I foster an intense hatred for the majority of the human race, but terrorising defenceless schoolchildren trying in vain to escape a room of unexplainable violence was great fun.

This very same section, however, contains a perfect example of everything that is wrong with this game. Shortly before Aiden’s attack, the teenage Jodie was asked for a dance by a boy. I chose to refuse; but she got up to dance with him anyway. There’s at least one similar ‘choice’ elsewhere in the game. What was the point of even asking me what I wanted Jodie to do? That’s a thought I had before, and a great many times after. In short, the player is not invited to enjoy the experience; their presence is tolerated by an impatient director.

The story, such as it is, concerns Jodie and her invisible spirit friend Aiden, who has been with her since birth. The result is a story about a young girl, and later woman, who essentially has almost unstoppable supernatural powers. It’s a story that’s been told a hundred times before, and each one of those hundred times it was told better than this. Throwing in an excruciatingly dull chapter about a curse and tossing the word “Navajo” in hoping that it will deflect criticism does the script no favours at all. The whole thing is just written so… damn… badly.

Ellen Page’s likeness is captured extremely well. Willem Dafoe’s… less so.

As I hinted at the start of the review, the two most prominent characters – Jodie and the kindly doctor that raises her for most of her life – have no depth whatsoever. This means, of course, that there’s absolutely no hope for any of the other characters. Combined with the fact that the story isn’t presented chronologically – chapters are thrown at the player seemingly at random – there’s a particularly damning side effect. It’s impossible to care about anybody in this story, what they’re doing, or what might happen to them. The script at various points tries to raise melodrama, horror, tension; all of which fall hopelessly flat. No amount of flicking the right stick in the direction of white dots will fix that.

The fact that the players in this sorry affair are so lifeless and one-dimensional means that when one of them acts out of character – which happens more than once – it’s painfully obvious, and completely derails the scene. Nowhere is this more painful and ridiculous than in the final chapter, which is written so badly it almost – almost – makes all the preceding chapters seem competent. I can’t explain exactly why without giving spoilers, which I shan’t do. If you’re unlucky enough to have already paid real money for this game, I won’t risk taking away what little enjoyment you might, at an outside shot, get from it.

As for plot holes, well… it’s a wonder the disc doesn’t fall apart when you take it out of the case.

Beyond: Two Souls fails completely as a game, and the script would be laughed out of any respectable movie studio. The most frustrating thing is knowing that millions must have been flushed down this project. Imagine if the same budget had been given to, say, Kan Gao; the mastermind behind To The Moon which, despite having SNES-style pixellated graphics, is the only game I’ve ever played that made me cry. Oh, and I hope your TV doesn’t sometimes struggle with picture definition in dark areas of games like mine does; the director won’t let you mess with the lighting.

critical score 3

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Written by Luke K

He plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He's the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. He doesn't have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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