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I loved Heavy Rain. I mean, really, really loved it. It was an absolute masterpiece of interactive storytelling and I played it through multiple times in order to access different endings. I was overcome with excitement at seeing Quantic Dream’s latest release at E3 this year, Beyond: Two Souls, which included not only some beautifully rendered trailers, an intriguing storyline and a gameplay demo, but a developer talk as well.
It was then with disappointment that I realized after a couple of hours of playing Beyond: Two Souls that this was not the game I had hoped it would be. It’s not a bad game, indeed it’s actually quite a good game in many respects, but it’s not as good as its predecessor.
Beyond: Two Souls tells the story of Jodie, and is told to us in a non-linear fashion, beginning many years into Jodie’s adulthood with an accident, some classic thunder and lightning and persecution by a governmental organization who see her as a threat. It then jumps backwards and forwards in time, sometimes to when Jodie was a child being put through a series of psychic tests, sometimes as an angsty teenager, and later as a CIA agent.
Jodie is connected to a spirit named Aiden, who can manipulate objects in the real world, express his displeasure with his host, and at times possess the living. In the beginning of the game you learn not only to control Aiden, but also to train Jodie. This isn’t the kind of game where you go out and complete fast-paced, high action missions, so don’t even contemplate that. While there are some scenarios that will be considered tense in comparison to the rest of the game, this is no action-adventure.
Visually Beyond: Two Souls is incredibly beautiful and everything from the atmospheric effects, to the environments to the character design is immediately recognizable as Quantic Dream’s signature style. David Cage has an impressive eye for beauty and nuance, the latter of which is evident in the extensive motion capture. Sadly, while the main characters are expertly done, the secondary characters lack by comparison and as is the danger in games such as these, the characters swim in and out of the uncanny valley continuously, creating an uncomfortable experience.
The mechanics are almost identical to Heavy Rain although I did notice the controls were not quite as sensitive which I think in this case was a good thing. If you’ve never had any experience with a Quantic Dream game the best way to describe it is “interactive fiction”. You’ll spend most of the time using the analogue stick to walk around while occasionally pressing buttons to interact with objects, but there’s only rarely a sense of urgency, certainly not as much as was present in Heavy Rain. As is the developer’s trademark, your choices throughout the game will impact the ending, so your interactions with other characters are of paramount importance.
In Beyond: Two Souls you control only a single character as opposed to Heavy Rain’s four, which is magnificently portrayed by Ellen Page. There is also an admirable appearance by Willem Dafoe as Dr Nathan Dawkins, and the acting of the main characters (although sadly not the subsidiary ones) is probably one of the best parts of this game.
While there are some good gameplay elements, the real issue is that the story falls sadly flat, even with the occasional tugging on the heartstrings. It jumps backwards and forwards in time as we learn about Jodie’s past and how she became a CIA agent, but many of the scenes seem somewhat pointless and superfluous. I have no problem with training scenes or levels for example, but a training scene lasting mere minutes with no apparent purpose or contribution to the story just seems unnecessary. What’s worse is that the story is filled with plot holes that are really just too difficult to ignore. If the focus of a game is the story itself and not the gameplay, your narrative really needs to be impeccable in order to draw your players in, and sadly this game doesn’t do that. The further you progress, the more the flaws in the plot become obvious.
Verdict: As I mentioned earlier, Beyond: Two Souls is not a bad game. It’s just not as good as I expected it to be, and it doesn’t quite live up to the standard of Heavy Rain. This makes for a somewhat disappointing experience, and if you’re new to the world of Quantic Dream, this isn’t the best example to get you started. It’s worth the play through if you’re an interactive fiction fan, but don’t expect Heavy Rain. Expect a decent but somewhat forgettable experience.