What We Played: The Entire Game, plus several alternate timelines.
The game revolves around a character named Jodie and a spirit that Jodie calls Aiden. The beautiful thing about the game is that even the way you play it has a part in the story. The story is played out of chronological order, and takes place over 15 years of Jodie’s life. You will play her as a child, teenager, and young adult. During the loading sequence you will view a timeline, and as you move along it will show the events you played and where you are now. Simply viewing this helps explain the story and what’s going on.
The story itself starts to explain why you play the game like this, but overall I think it would be awesome if it also offered the opportunity to play the game in order. Sure jumping back and forth made me want to see what happened next, or filled me in, but it also rushed things. There were times when I really badly wanted to see what happened next, only to be forced to play Jodie as a child and become interested in a new story. Then we finally go back to the event I wanted to play before and need to catch myself back up. I think a lot of the climactic points in the story would have been way more beneficial if they were played in order, instead of jumping from one emotion to the next.
Don’t get me wrong though, a lot of the jumping around was done rather well too. You had moments where something was developing, then bam you go back to the child portion and it explains it in more detail, then you go back to the adult version and you want to make new decisions.
With that being said, get ready for an emotional thrill ride. Cage doesn’t stick to one genre throughout the game, so you can’t really expect anything that’s coming next. One second you are alone, stuck in the woods, the next you are battling some giant spirit or monster. Everything you can think of was crammed into this short story, government conspiracies, war, self doubt, everything.
That being said, the best scenes are actually the simplest ones. There is a scene where Jodie is homeless and you meet other homeless people. You have to beg for food and wonder the snow covered streets to do so. This entire scene is so masterfully done that it was the perfect example of why I absolutely could not put the game down. You don’t do much, the most “action” you get for a while is the decision to make a joke on a sign, or be serious. The next thing you know you have the opportunity to steal money, do you do it? And the following scene shows the consequences of that decision.
I know you have probably read it a million times by now, but Ellen Page is absolutely phenomenal in this game and made these scenes all the more real. Her voice is so belieavable, and just her character alone will send you through so many emotions. You feel for her, you believe her, you want to watch her story evolve and you don’t want to stop. Then you basically take her brilliant performance and put in William Dafoe and the two of them are simply wow. I’m never a fan of putting Hollywood stars into games because they often turn out to be dull voice actors with no heart in the project. Beyond: Two Souls has absolutely changed my mind in every way, these two are simply amazing and should be winning every award there is for voice acting. (Well, maybe if The Last of Us can share some awards!)
The issue I have with this is that you have these two that are obviously talented in scenes that are brilliantly done, but the game carries itself into a whole different world. A lot of the quick one liners or minor characters are not as well done. The other characters that stick to the game throughout its course are also great (the people Jodie meets and actually likes etc) However there are instances where Jodie comes across a character just for a scene or two, and these characters sound like they are simply reading off a script. I think a lot of the dialogue could have been re-worked a little too. For example several characters yell “She’s a witch!” as an insult to Jodie. To me, that isn’t as powerful as they were trying to make it seem. I understand what the target was, but let’s try to make Jodies life a little more harsh in these instances and truly insult her.
To me it was just the simple fact that these were not “important” and were brushed over. The focus was the two key characters and the immediate ones around them, so they got all the attention. Other parts of the game feel this way too. While jumping through the timeline, you will come across scenes that are amazing and will quite literally make you cry. Other scenes kind of let you escape this world and take you out of it. It seems David Cage had so many ideas, and didn’t decide to pick and choose. Impactful scenes are mixed with action sequences with less meaning. There is one scene where you are sent to war, and are all of a sudden shooting guns and in a war. Another scene you are battling giant spirits and are in this new crazy world. Yet one scene sticks with Jodie and impacts her timeline a lot, while the other is simply forgotten like nothing happened and randomly makes a return later.
These scenes still have very emotional thrill rides, but the issue I have with them is the importance to the timeline. Several times the game jumped the gun in my opinion and you were suddenly in love with somebody and have the option to kiss them. What lead to this conclusion? You choose to do so, and the person is forgotten in the next scene because Jodie loves someone else now. The game even had a few hiccups where your decisions lead to a consequence, but in the cutscenes (especially in the end) the consequences were forgotten and somewhat hurt the image. I can’t really explain these without spoilers, so I won’t do it.
So we have all this information about the story, how does the game itself play?
Let’s get the issue out of the way right from the beginning. This isn’t an action oriented game at all. It has certain action sequences, but you are playing for the story. The game deals with a lot of quick time events, but unlike Heavy Rain, the events are more intertwined in the title itself. Instead of random buttons, you do the movements that make sense by using the analog sticks. You have to closely watch each scene. If Jodie is being attacked, you need to follow her movements. Sometimes quick time events do happen, but they feel natural and add to the enjoyment of the scene.
Jodie can interact with a good majority of the environment too. If there is something she can mess with, a white dot appears near it and you simply press the analog stick in the direction that makes sense. If she is standing to the left, you move it to the right, and vice versa. It works in 90 percent of the cases, but there were a few instances where it was clunky and didn’t work. For example when several option appear, you press in a direction and since there are so many things she could reach for the wrong item.
Aiden adds even more gameplay to the title by allowing you to press Triangle and become him in first person view. You can then navigate the world around Jodie, pass through walls, possess enemies, and create distractions. The issue here is that the world isn’t entirely yours. You can do all this, but only on specific things. There are certain walls you can’t pass through, a lot of enemies you can’t do anything to, and many restrictions to Aiden. Yet the game never tells you why.
This is the problem with the game itself, it’s basically driving itself. Yes you make decisions that change the story and the immediate environment around you, but overall you are not “playing” anything. The game quickly sends you through training on how to use Aiden and Jodie (you won’t even realize you are doing it either), but none of the features are ever used. Aiden would make for some great puzzles in the game, yet there are never any. He is simply used to help progress the story further. Jodie gets trapped, save her in this specific way. There is no choice on how to do it. It noted “you can create distractions and help Jodie” yet you do it one time, and the idea is never utilized again. Why can I only kill some people and only possess some people? Why can’t I do things my way and possibly fail?
Jodie is very similar. The game teaches you how to shoot a gun, but it’s only used maybe two times in the game. To me this was both the weaker point in the title, but the most fascinating. In a way the action scenes are simplistic, but in reality they make fun of other action titles. The core of shooters is dumbed down and so easy, yet you are still getting the full effect of them. The problem is that it teaches you things like “don’t be seen” and then never threatens you with it. I was literally just pressing buttons. Occasionally Jodie would get stuck so I’d press a different button and move on. There was no consequence to failing though. I purposely missed almost every sequence during a fight and Jodie still got up and won the fight, other times Aiden would just step in and help her. There was always an excuse as to why things had to keep going in that direction, and no way to fail at it.
The strong point with Jodie is the new fight sequences and running sequences. When these occurred you have to press the analog stick in the direction that Jodie is moving. It’s a great idea and keeps you indulged in the game, but also had its flaws. There were times when Jodie’s movement was questionable (is she going down, or to the right?) and you mess up, but yet again there is no consequence to it. Sure Jodie will be beat up in the next cutscene, but that’s it. No way to fail, no way to see Jodie die. If she gets shot and should be dead, Aiden just heals her to make up for it.
However, even when I figured this out, I still cared. I don’t know why, but I still wanted Jodie to beat the crap out of every villain she faced. I wanted to see kids that made fun of her get scared in a closed room. You still get to make decisions and these decisions affect the immediate outcome of the specific scene. Sure you can’t see Jodie die or make dramatic changes in the story, but these small things still made Jodie unique to you. I wish there were instances where you could make a different choice, but overall that just can’t happen unless they made 10 different games in one. So the odd little “yes we know you made this choice, but let us fix it for you” makes sense. A good majority of the time, the game is “correcting” your choices and you don’t even care.
The choices do create some odd plot holes though. Playing the game and being sporadic with your choices will lead to some open ended scenarios. Why does Jodie randomly love this guy now? Why is she angry here? Why is this person persistent with Jodie when you want to go a different route?
One thing I do want to put emphasis on is how amazing this game looks. The facial expressions are amazing thanks to Quantic Dreams technology, it truly brings the characters to life. The real glory in everything though was the scenery. Every single level is vibrant and so breath taking that you just want to take the time to look around and embrace it. It was so lively, so impactful that it added to the story. There is one scene where Jodie is on the run in the forest and my goodness it was amazing. Another scene where she is tossed into a warzone is mind blowing as well. You are walking through these areas, seeing people get harmed, seeing Jodie’s reaction to it all, and will get stunned by simply seeing things.
The thing is this is a review and I have to point out the positive and negative side to things, but overall Beyond: Two Souls is brilliant and will be one of my top games for years to come. It simply makes you feel for characters, it made me never want to stop playing, and when it was over I wanted more. I truly hope Quantic dream does in-fact return to this title and adds more to it. At its highest points, Jodie is a believable character and this game makes such simple tasks seem so important. They showed gamers that you don’t need to shoot a gun to have a good action scene, and they showed movies what good character development could do. I don’t know if I should be mad that movies don’t let you interact with them like this, or that games don’t have this much character depth. It’s a great mix of both worlds, well done Quantic Dream and David Cage…. Well done!
(If they would have added consequences to Jodie failing at something and puzzles for Aiden, it would have been an honest 10)