Beyond: Two Souls is not a game, but more than that. It is the latest PlayStation-exclusive creation from the storytelling genius of David Cage and Quantic Dream that goes through the trials and tribulations of the life of Jodie Holmes, who is played by Ellen Page. It has many of the same aspects as Heavy Rain, although it is improved in many ways. It is a well-written, well-acted game that proves that games are an appropriate medium for storytelling. While not flawless, it is a beautiful emotional roller coaster through love, hatred, life, death, and morality that ends up being one of the most memorable and thought-provoking experiences I’ve had in a game.

Beyond: Two Souls is a beautiful game. From the near-perfect resemblances of Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe, and all other actors due to the motion capture, to the beautiful diverse locations Jodie will visit throughout the course of the game, the beauty of this game is evident from the very beginning. Character animations are crisp and transitions from cutscene to gameplay are seamless and virtually unnoticeable. Lip syncing can be choppy, however, although it does not take away too much from the experience.

The sound is equally excellent. The soundtrack is evocative and emotional, changing tone as the game does. It was composed by the late Norman Corbeil, and then finished by Lorne Balfe, making the soundtrack very similar to Heavy Rain in tone and equally excellent. The voice acting is one of the main improvements over Heavy Rain. In Heavy Rain, many main characters didn’t have great acting and seem artificial. Here, Ellen Page is Jodie Holmes and Willem Dafoe is Nathan Dawkins. The characters, main and supporting, are all well acted and believable. This also plays into the tone of the game, as the characters are able to elicit emotional responses from the player unlike most other games. The game has a colossal script due to the large amount of choices and dialogue. The script was entirely written by David Cage, and is said to be over 2000 pages long. It contains fantastic dialogue for these characters, tense moments, and is overall a much better script than Heavy Rain.

The game’s biggest faults are technical. There were many times during my time with the game that it nearly froze and the framerate is not always consistent. There is also a fair amount of texture pop-in at seemingly random moments during the game. These were the only times during the game, however, that took me out of the experience.

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The story is something of a masterpiece. It tells the story of Jodie Holmes from her birth to her early 20s. Jodie is a girl who has a special entity – Aiden – attached to her. It tells the player her life, through the many settings that she must attend as a girl with special abilities. It is an emotional tale that goes through her personal and professional life, with everything expected from the tale of a person with special abilities and then some.

There are a total of 24 missions in the game, switching between Jodie as an adult and as a child. Sometimes, the story can become confusing, making you wonder if something you have already played has happened already at the point of that specific mission. Most of the missions are important to the story, although there were some drawn-out missions that didn’t seem to make a difference in the story overall.

The biggest surprise with Beyond: Two Souls was the incredible number of outcomes for any particular scene. There are many scenes that Jodie could lose in, and one thing stressed by David Cage is that there are no “Game Over” screens. If Jodie were to die, the game and her story are over. This is proven by the monumental script. There are so many different outcomes and dialogue options in conversation, although many times until late in the game these choices are outlined by the same few words and end up being in the same tone. This is just a small annoyance that is amplified because of the reliance on dialogue and options.

The overall amount of different scenes and endings made for this game, however, is something that is much improved over Heavy Rain. Although Heavy Rain had many different endings as well, it was a mystery that was solved no matter what. In Beyond, the story can end in countless ways, be it during a fight or at the true end, there are so many different scenes and therefore countless replayability. The ending I received was satisfying, and nearly made me tear up. As a note, the ending also made Only Single Player’s only army member tear up as well.

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The gameplay is a mixed bag in Beyond: Two Souls. It has many of the same elements as Heavy Rain with a few additions, large and small. It combines the aforementioned dialogue options with more actions scenes. The core gameplay is quick time events, something that isn’t normally accepted in gaming today. However, these are used to tell a story. It is something used to help convey the fact that this is a story and the closest thing to a movie a game will be. Gameplay as Jodie consists of walking around locations and interacting with objects as well as the addition of action scenes, where there is a semi-coherent cover system and stealth gameplay. In fistfights, the action turns to slow-motion when Jodie must either go in for a punch or evade an attack.

The main addition, however, is Jodie’s entity Aiden. Aiden can be used at nearly any time by pressing Triangle, and can be used to move or break objects, see flashbacks, take control of other people, and more. He can be used to solve puzzles and is overall a nice addition to the otherwise generally straightforward gameplay. None of the controls in the game are very simple, although they are easy to get used to. Controlling Aiden can be difficult as changing altitudes and locking-on to certain objects can be frustrating at points. Controlling Jodie is equally frustrating at points, and is amplified during a few certain missions. The camera can change at unexpected times, making Jodie turn and end up walking in circles.

The game also doesn’t have any way of directing the player as to where to go next. This isn’t always a problem, although it is noticeable in certain areas where the world becomes open and you don’t know where to go next. Finally, the fact that Jodie can die during action scenes and cause a game over causes the game to be extremely forgiving. It is evident that the game doesn’t want Jodie’s story to end early, so it takes many failed actions to fail a scene, and at points scenes are finished correctly even if the actions were failed.

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Beyond: Two Souls is the epitome of a fantastic story. Developer Quantic Dream has nearly perfected its personal genre, the Interactive Drama. It has the fantastic acting of Ellen Page, Willem Dafoe, and the entire supporting cast, as well as the beautiful soundtrack and great script. The gameplay and technical problems keep the game from being a masterpiece, but the thought-provoking story and the countless different options will keep me coming back for more to see the rest that the game has to offer.

(Reviewed on PS3)

ONLY SINGLE PLAYER SCORE

Story – 9/10

Gameplay/Design – 6/10

Visuals – 8.5/10

Sound – 9.5/10

Lasting Appeal – 9/10

_______________________

Overall – 8.5/10

(Not an average)

Platforms: PlayStation 3

Developer: Quantic Dream

Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment

  • Joseph Blower

    One of the relatively few reviews that I can agree with (to some extent).

    I’ve tentatively come to the conclusion that most people who dislike Beyond do so because they cannot (or will not) accept the game on its own terms: They have certain expectations of video games, and deviation from well-established norms vexes them. So, for instance, they demand interactivity, even when accepting passivity allows a far more compelling and moving narrative.

    In contrast, other people are more flexible (with regards to their expectations of the medium). For instance, the “passivity” of playing Beyond did not bother me in the slightest. I knew what I was getting into, and I knew it was worth the tradeoff: there has been only one other title in forty years of gaming history that provides an experience comparable to Beyond: Two Souls, and it was released three years ago (Heavy Rain).

    I believe that many reviewers, given their larger than average exposure to the medium are even less tolerant that other players of certain deviations from gameplay norms. This, I think, explains the large divergence of opinions on metacritic, and the (to me) inconceivably low average the game currently has (a mere 73 for the professionals, and 78 for gamers).

    Like the criticism that the game strips the player of freedom/agency, I do not think the others have merit:

    I consider the script to be impeccable. I have noticed no plot holes, and very few problems with the dialogue. It is telling that David Cage took a year of 12-14-hour days to write it and that it is 2000 pages in length.

    I consider Page’s acting to be truly and deeply awe-inspiring. I cannot praise her highly enough. She memorized 30-40 pages of dialogue each day. She had very little time to prepare and rehearse. She often had to juggle different emotional responses to the situations (e.g., playing the part one way in a scene and playing it another way in the same scene). Yet, despite these challenges, her acting is consistently of the highest professional quality. I have noticed no flaws in her performance; it is (along with William Dafoe’s performance) very much in keeping with her Academy Award for Best Actress. I consider her to be the most talented actress I’ve seen.

    I also think that the myriad ad hominem attacks against David Cage seem entirely unwarranted. He does not try to impose his views on others. Rather, he is merely passionate, has a vision he believes in, and is outspoken in his beliefs. He believes that gaming can, like cinema or literature, change the world (or try to). This is not arrogant; it is noble.

    Moreover, the game has other strengths that seem to be overlooked by many:

    – The social commentary is entirely warranted, and appropriately biting.
    – The graphical quality of the game is the best of any on a console.
    – The story is incredibly moving and thought-provoking. The narrative was very easy for me to follow, despite the non-chronological presentation.
    – There is a wide range of different locales and gameplay dynamics employed.

    To put it succinctly (and a little melodramatically):

    For me, the game is both a reminder and illustration of the many challenges and the triumphs, the sadnesses and joys that life has to offer. For me, it’s life affirming, and I consider it deep, rich and meaningful. There are almost no other games (and few movies and books, for that matter) for which I can say the same.

    Take a chance: play this game.

  • Joseph Blower

    Your mileage may vary, but for me, the game is transcendent.

    It transcends both video games and movies to become something greater than either medium would ever be by themselves. I’m an avid gamer (I have 400+ Steam games, 400+ iOS games, and 100+ console games). Yet–to speak for myself–*I* found this game far more moving, thought-provoking, meaningful, and entertaining than many other games (including Super Mario Galaxy 1-2, Grand Theft Auto 4-5, The Last of Us, and others).

    I can only compare it to Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, or the Metal Gear Solid series: deep rich stories that have themes and messages that convey something of lasting meaning; something beyond the mindless (but fun) shooting and platforming of other titles.

    I will remember this game for years to come. There are few works of fiction of any medium for which I can say the same.

    If you like a rich deep story line and don’t care about a lack of “agency” (it’s always illusory in video games, anyway–there are always incredibly restrictive rules on game play), then this is *the* game of the seventh generation. The comparably minor errors in execution and direction can be ignored, when viewed in light of the whole.

    Indeed, the question of whether this qualifies as a game is, like Dear Ester, a largely irrelevant and pedantic: It entertains. It provokes thought. It is emotionally moving. And it illustrates that games–like cinema or literature–can be taken seriously as a medium to both entertain and enlighten.

    It seems to me that most reviewers of this game have profoundly and tragically missed the point.

  • Joseph Blower

    Your mileage may vary, but for me, this game is transcendent.

    It transcends video games and movies to become something greater than either medium would ever be by themselves. I’m an avid gamer (I have 400+ Steam games, 400+ iOS games, and 100+ console games). Yet–to speak for myself–*I* found this game far more moving, thought-provoking, meaningful, and entertaining than many other games (including Super Mario Galaxy 1-2, Grand Theft Auto 4-5, The Last of Us, and others).

    I can only compare it to Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, or the Metal Gear Solid series: deep rich stories that have themes and messages that convey something of lasting meaning; something beyond the mindless (but fun) shooting and platforming of other titles.

    I will remember this game for years to come. There are few works of fiction of any medium for which I can say the same.

    If you like a rich deep story line and don’t care about a lack of “agency” (it’s always illusory in video games, anyway–there are always incredibly restrictive rules on game play), then this is *the* game of the seventh generation. The comparably minor errors in execution and direction can be ignored, when viewed in light of the whole.

    Indeed, the question of whether this qualifies as a game is, like Dear Ester, a largely irrelevant and pedantic: It entertains. It provokes thought. It is emotionally moving. And it illustrates that games–like cinema or literature–can be taken seriously as a medium to both entertain and enlighten.

    It seems to me that most reviewers of this game have profoundly and tragically missed the point.

  • Joseph Blower

    Again, this is one of the few reviews that I can get behind.

    This game transcends both video games and movies to become something greater than either medium would ever be by themselves. I’m an avid gamer (I have 400+ Steam games, 400+ iOS games, and 100+ console games). Yet–to speak for myself–*I* found this game far more moving, thought-provoking, meaningful, and entertaining than many other games (including Super Mario Galaxy 1-2, Grand Theft Auto 4-5, The Last of Us, and others).

    I can only compare it to Heavy Rain, The Walking Dead, or the Metal Gear Solid series: deep rich stories that have themes and messages that convey something of lasting meaning; something beyond the mindless (but fun) shooting and platforming of other titles.

    I will remember this game for years to come. There are few works of fiction of any medium for which I can say the same.

    If you like a rich deep story line and don’t care about a lack of “agency” (it’s always illusory in video games, anyway–there are always incredibly restrictive rules on game play), then this is *the* game of the seventh generation. The comparably minor errors in execution and direction can be ignored, when viewed in light of the whole.

    Indeed, the question of whether this qualifies as a game is, like Dear Ester, a largely irrelevant and pedantic: It entertains. It provokes thought. It is emotionally moving. And it illustrates that games–like cinema or literature–can be taken seriously as a medium to both entertain and enlighten.

    It seems to me that most of the professional reviewers of this game have tragically missed the point.